Criminal justice system fees up for debate at Senate hearing

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BOSTON >> A Senate committee wants to look into the fees and fines imposed within the justice system, inviting top court, corrections and defendant advocacy officials to testify at a hearing Thursday.

The new state budget signed by Gov. Charlie Baker included a Senate initiative barring probation fees on people put on probation while under the age of 18. A Senate budget provision allowing judges broader discretion in waiving probation fees for defendants was not included in the final version that reached Baker's desk.

Baker vetoed a budget rider initially proposed by the House that would have increased by $10 the maximum bail fee, making it $50. "I am vetoing this section because it unnecessarily raises fees without proposing any increased or improved services, or otherwise providing justification for the fee increase," Baker wrote in his veto message.

The Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight said a preliminary analysis found "dozens of penalties" that can be imposed on defendants, including bail after work hours and a fee for substance abuse testing. Additionally the committee noted defendants deemed indigent face costs for public defenders.

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants raised the issue in an annual address last year.

"And if we are truly committed to reducing recidivism, should we not take a fresh look at the various fees we impose on criminal defendants that go to the state's general fund?" Gants asked the assembled lawyers and lawmakers, according to his prepared remarks. Noting the fees total roughly $30 million per year in state revenue, Gants said, "But should we not stop and ask: who are we asking to pay these fees? Most are dead broke, or nearly broke. Approximately 75 percent of criminal defendants are indigent."

"One of the questions we'll ask is whether state government has become too dependent on collecting money from people, even very poor people, who get involved with the criminal justice system," Sen. Michael Barrett, a Lexington Democrat and chairman of the committee, said in a statement.

The committee plans to hear from District Court Chief Justice Paul Dawley, Probation Commissioner Edward Dolan, Department of Correction Deputy Commissioner Carol Mici, Parole Board Executive Director Michael Callahan, Committee for Public Counsel Services Chief Counsel Anthony Benedetti and Prisoners' Legal Services Executive Director Leslie Walker.


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