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Maryland’s Parole Supervision Fee: A Barrier to Reentry

  • Rebekah Diller
  • Judith Greene
  • Michelle Jacobs
Published: March 23, 2009

Given the increas­ing use of economic sanc­tions by state govern­ments, people enter­ing the crim­inal justice system are unlikely to leave it without incur­ring new debt. For example, Mary­land law author­izes charges for everything from an indi­vidu­al’s initial arrest, to the costs of a consti­tu­tion­ally mandated public defender, to the costs of the indi­vidu­al’s super­vi­sion on proba­tion or parole.

Most of these charges are unre­lated to the crim­inal system’s putat­ive goals of punish­ment, deterrence, inca­pa­cit­a­tion, and rehab­il­it­a­tion. Instead, they are designed to subsid­ize state budgets. This grow­ing category of debt—cre­ated by fees levied to gener­ate reven­ue—is distinct from fines and resti­tu­tion, the two more tradi­tional categor­ies of crim­inal justice-related “legal finan­cial oblig­a­tions,” or “LFOs.” Fines are the tradi­tional monet­ary penalty, usually based on the sever­ity of crime, imposed to punish an indi­vidual. Resti­tu­tion, a court-ordered payment by the offender to compensate the victim for finan­cial loss result­ing from the crime, is rooted in a restor­at­ive justice approach that emphas­izes repair­ing the harm of crim­inal beha­vior.  

Revenue-gener­at­ing “fees,” on the other hand, are assessed not for any crim­inal justice purpose, but rather to fund state budgets. They are imposed on a largely indi­gent popu­la­tion, rather than on the general tax-paying popu­lace. And, they are imposed without regard to their impact on the abil­ity of persons convicted of a crime to reenter soci­ety after complet­ing court-mandated punish­ment. The parole super­vi­sion fee in Maryland—a monthly oblig­a­tion of $40 that totals of hundreds of dollars over the course of the parole term—is just such a charge.