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Old 11-03-2019, 07:06 AM
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Frankly, the last two posts offer good advice but miss the point. While it would be great if every defendant either a) never committed a crime or b) paid off all fines, costs and restitution before sentencing, neither is likely to happen.

Suggesting that the person "not go to prison" is not a supportive comment and thus violates PTO policy, but I'll let it stand.

This issue is under serious review as we speak. Pennsylvania has, for the past thirty years or so, passed legislation which incrementally heaps on more costs and fees. Every time the State needs to balance the budget, someone adds a fee to either criminal court, civil court or traffic tickets. Most of the money goes into the court system itself (the AOPC). Also, the county-level courts are under pressure never to waive or absorb these amounts, even for indigent defendants. Finally, many counties are abusing probation as a means of enforcing collection.

There are efforts underway. Among them would be that anyone who financially qualifies for a public defender would not be assessed court costs. Another is that people sent to jail would not also be fined. these are common-sense changes.

No one is suggesting that defendants shroud not pay restitution. In fact, restitution should be a core concept behind our criminal justice system. That being said, the process for determining restitution is terrible. If my vehicle is burglarized and I decide I had $1,000 in cash in the glove box, I can claim it for restitution and no proof is required. Costs for "counseling" are double-dipped because it's often covered by insurance. Efforts are underway to increase the required documentation of actual losses so that restitution is honest.

As for the DOC's statutory duty to assist in the collection of these debts, they're kind of stuck in the middle. Efforts to have roll back the percentages taken have largely failed, as have effort to raise the inmate wage structure. In the end, the process often collects a small amount of what is due but creates a large impact on the inmate. If the DOC were to increase inmate wages, eliminate the medical co-pay and provide larger meal portions, the "demand" on families and friends would decrease, but these would also hit the DOC budget pretty hard. (A one-cent wage increase across the board amounts to millions of dollars per year.)

My advice to any prisoner is to live frugally and to earn your keep. I have met far too many inmates who contentedly "work" at the bottom of the pay scale because they have people sending them hundreds of dollars per month. Some of them then gripe because money is taken for overdue child support. At the other end of the spectrum are those who forego a TV and a locker filled with junk food while working in a CI shop and sending the money home to the mother of their children (or their own mother.) Which one looks better to the Parole Board?
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