Fewer offenders paying user fees

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The Indiana Lawyer on 04/05/2017 by Marilyn Odendahl

Miami County chief probation officer Susan Rice describes her department’s financial health in stark terms.

“We’re poor,” she said.

The poverty has been brought on by a money crunch linked to a decrease in user fee payments. These fees are charged for programs and services that offenders must participate in as part of their sentences. The funds offenders pay are used to cover the bulk, if not all, of the cost of running a probation department, including salaries, travel expenses, training and office supplies.

At one point, the Miami County Probation Department had a surplus of roughly $300,000 from the fees it was bringing in. But as the economy faltered and the county cut its budget, the department had to dip deeper and deeper into its reserve.

The surplus is now depleted and collection of fees is dropping. In 2013, $132,426 in user fees was collected. But by 2016, that amount had dropped to $99,742, and to date in 2017, collections are down $10,000 from this same time last year.

Probation departments across Indiana, which are heavily dependent on user fees, are facing the same problem as Miami County. The number of offenders able to pay has dropped substantially and departments are struggling to continue paying officers and maintain services.

Departments do not foresee any chance of the situation correcting itself. They contend to continue operating, the state is going to have to start supplementing their budgets or they may have to cut personnel.

“In my opinion, we’re dealing with a population in probation that just doesn’t have that kind of money,” said Linda Brady, chief probation officer in Monroe County and president of the Probation Officers Professional Association of Indiana Inc. “At some point, offenders just can’t continue to support this.”