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Maryland: Parole Supervision Fee Likely Does More Harm than Good

In a 2009 report by the Brennan Center for Justice, a think tank and public interest advocacy group at New York University School of Law, the authors conclude that the state of Maryland’s assessment of a $40 monthly parole supervision fee is “a penny-wise, pound-foolish policy” that likely does more harm than good to society’s interests in fostering public safety and reducing the burden on taxpayers arising from the costs of incarceration.

In 1991, as part of a national trend to charge those convicted of crime with the costs of their punishment, Maryland enacted a law obligating parolees to pay a fee of $40 for each month they remained on parole supervision. The purpose behind the fee was to generate revenue to finance general state operations -- not the parolee’s actual supervision.

For the sample of 7,524 parolee cases analyzed by the Brennan center report, supervision fees averaged $743, but ranged as high as $5,600. In nine out of ten cases, the parolee failed to fully repay this debt upon discharge from parole, largely because of significant hurdles in obtaining and maintaining employment. Indeed, while they face a multitude of financial obligations -- including child support, drug and alcohol testing fees, and, in some cases, fees for participation in drug treatment and other programs that are conditions of their parole – the vast majority of parolees are unemployed. Thus, not surprisingly, only 17 percent of the total amount of supervision fees assessed in the sample were collected.

When a parolee fails to pay his or her monthly fee, the Division of Parole and Probation (“DPP”) sends a computer-generated letter threatening parole revocation. Although DPP’ s practice generally is not to seek actual revocation of parole based solely on non-payment of the parole supervision fee, the threatening letters nonetheless create fear and frustration among the recipients, sometimes pushing parolees over the edge. Thus, in an ironic twist, some parolees reported that they felt they had to resort to crime to pay off their debts -- in order to avoid having their paroles revoked! How often this occurred is not precisely known. But, with incarceration costing Maryland taxpayers an average of about $32,000 per prisoner annually, if the fear of parole revocation played a role in just 11 parolees returning to prison for a year, the costs to the state would exceed the $334,752 in revenue raised by the supervision fee in fiscal year 2008.

The Brennan Center report recommends that the Maryland Legislature abolish the parole supervision fee as being in-consistent with the state’s efforts to promote the successful reentry of offenders to society. Source: Maryland’s Parole Supervision Fee: A Barrier to Reentry by Diller, Greene, and Jacobs. The report is available on PLN’s website.

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