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«Crime Does Not Pay, But Criminals May: Factors Influencing the Imposition and Collection of Probation Fees* David E. Olson and Gerard F. Ramker In ...»

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The Present Study and Setting Probation in Illinois is administered at the county level, under the judicial branch of government (Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, 1997). As in most other states, probation administrators in Illinois have been forced to manage increasing numbers of adults sentenced to probation, creating pressure to provide both cost-effective supervision strategies and rehabilitative programs. On December 31, 1998, more than 40,000 adults were incarcerated in Illinois’s prison system, and more than 84,000 adults were under probation supervision. Of these adults on active probation, approximately 40 percent were convicted of misdemeanors and 60 percent of felony offenses (Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, 1999). Since January 1, 1989, Illinois law has allowed judges to impose a probation fee of up to $25 per month of supervision. Receipts from this fee supplement county appropriations for probation services, but cannot be used for probation officer salaries. As has been found in prior research (e.g., Baird, Holien, and Bakke, 1987), allowing agencies to use the fees collected positively influences collection rates. During 1998, more than $9.4 million was collected statewide from Illinois probationers through these fees, while more than $142 million was spent on probation activities in Illinois that year (Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, 1999).

To study the factors associated with probation fee imposition and collection, detailed data were collected for adult probationers discharged from supervision between November 1997 and January 1998. Every probation officer supervising adults was asked to complete a data collection form for each of their cases discharged during the study period, which captured information about the probationers and the conditions of their sentences. Unlike many criminal offenses, which tend to have seasonal cycles, there appears to be no seasonality to probation sentences or discharges. Thus, these data are OLSON and RAMKER representative of discharges throughout the year. Complete information on more than 2,400 adult probationers was collected for the study.

Four probation fee measures (dependent variables) were examined: 1) a dichotomous variable indicating whether a probation supervision fee was imposed, 2) the total amount ordered to be paid, 3) the monthly rate ordered to be paid, and 4) the collection rate, calculated by dividing the amount collected by the amount ordered. Across all probationers, 55.2 percent were ordered to pay probation fees, ranging from less than $60 to more than $1,500. Among those ordered to pay probation fees, the average amount per probationer was $315.65, and the average collection rate across probationers was 72 percent. The independent variables were grouped into two categories: probationer characteristics, including age, race, gender, income, education, and prior criminal history, and sentence characteristics, including whether the sentencing jurisdiction was urban or rural (a county population over or under 50,000, respectively), conviction offense type (violent, property, drug, and DUI), offense class (misdemeanor versus felony), sentence length, and the presence of other court-ordered conditions, such as treatment, community service orders, or the payment of other fines or court costs.

Through analyses of these data, we sought answers to two questions. First, what is the relationship between the independent variables and each of the measures of probation fees (the imposition of probation fees, the total and monthly amount of the probation fee ordered, and the probation fee collection rate)? We employed chi-square tests to examine the bivariate relationships between each predictor variable and the dichotomous measure of whether probation fees were imposed. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to examine the relationships between each predictor variable and the average amount of the probation fee ordered, the average monthly amount of the probation fee ordered, and the average collection rate. The second research question assessed the extent to which an independent variable predicted probation fee imposition or collection rates when the other independent variables in the study were held constant. We used logistic regression analysis to examine the independent contribution of each predictor variable in explaining whether probation fees were imposed, and linear regression analyses to explain the amount of the probation fees ordered and the collection rate. The linear models, which included only those cases in which a probation fee was imposed, were corrected to account for the sample selection bias created by truncating our original sample to include only those cases where the fee was imposed. The method to address the bias is described in the section summarizing the multivariate analyses.

Results

Bivariate Analyses Probationer Characteristics. When the imposition of probation fees—coded dichotomously as either yes or no—and the average percentage of fees collected were compared across the probationer characteristics, statistically significant differences were evident across all factors considered at the p≤.01 level (see Table 1). In general, proTHE JUSTICE SYSTEM JOURNAL bationers who were older, white, and male, and who had higher incomes and had completed high school or received their GED, were more likely than their counterparts on probation to be ordered to pay probation fees and paid a larger percentage of the ordered fees. Probationers with prior convictions were more likely to be ordered to pay probation fees than those without prior convictions, but paid a smaller percentage of the ordered fees than their counterparts.





When the average total amount of the supervision fee ordered was compared across these same probationer characteristics, however, the only statistically significant difference identified between the total fees imposed and probationer characteristics was probationer income. On the other hand, when the average monthly fee was examined across probationer characteristics, statistically significant age, gender, income, education level, and criminal history differences were evident. As with the likelihood that probation fees would be ordered, older males with higher incomes and who had completed high school or received their GED were ordered to pay more per month, on average, than their counterparts on probation who were also ordered to pay probation fees.

Thus, while there were fairly clear, consistent, and statistically significant differences across probationer characteristics when it came to whether probation fees were ordered, the average amount per month, and when the average percentage of fees paid were compared, less-consistent patterns emerged when the average total amount ordered per probationer was examined across these same characteristics. Probationer income was the only characteristic that revealed a consistent pattern across all measures of probation fees.

That is, the higher the income, the more likely probationers were ordered to pay fees, the higher the total and monthly amount of fees ordered, and the higher the collection rates.

Sentence Characteristics. Similar comparisons were also made to identify differences in the imposition and collection of probation fees across variables measuring the characteristics of the probation sentence, such as the jurisdiction where the sentence was imposed, conviction offense, conviction offense class, sentence length, and the presence of other conditions of probation. Comparisons of the dichotomous order-to-pay-probation-fee variable and these sentencing characteristics again yielded statistically significant differences across each variable considered at the p≤.01 level (see Table 2). Probationers convicted in a rural jurisdiction (a county with fewer than 50,000 residents) of a misdemeanor or a DUI, with shorter sentence lengths, and who also had treatment orders, payment of court costs, and payment of fines as conditions of probation, were more likely to be ordered to pay probation fees than their counterparts. Prior research on the imposition of fines has also found misdemeanors, DUI offenses, and orders for other financial conditions to be associated (Cole et al., 1988; Hillsman, 1990). On the other hand, probationers who were ordered to perform community service as part of their probation sentence were less likely to be ordered to pay probation fees. This may indicate a trade-off between financial conditions of probation and a service with some monetary benefit to the community.

When the average amount of probation fees imposed (total and average per month) was compared across the individual sentencing variables, some expected patterns emerged. With respect to offense class and sentence length, felons and those receiving longer sentences had higher total average probation fees imposed than their counterparts.

OLSON and RAMKER

–  –  –

This is to be expected because probation fees are imposed on a monthly basis, and felons receive longer sentences. Therefore, as the number of months in which fees have to be paid increases, so do average amounts ordered. However, the average amount ordered per month was lower for felons and for those with longer sentences, indicating that the court gave consideration to the total amount to be paid during the course of supervision when setting monthly payment rates. Some research on fine imposition has found that judges

THE JUSTICE SYSTEM JOURNAL

will often set fines lower to ensure compliance (Hillsman, 1990:63). Other relationships detected between the average amount of probation fees ordered and sentence characteristics, however, were less intuitive. For example, while the prevalence of probation fees ordered was higher in rural areas than in urban jurisdictions, the opposite was true when the average amount (total and monthly) ordered per probationer was compared across rural and urban counties: rural jurisdictions imposed lower average probation fees ($211.38, or $11.74 per month) than urban areas ($349.48, or $19.16 per month).

Another pattern evident was the inverse relationship between the average amount of probation fees ordered (total and per month) and other financial conditions of probation (e.g., payment of court costs or fines). Those ordered to pay fines and probation fees had lower total and monthly average probation fees ordered than did those assessed probation fees without fines. However, when the average amount of probation fees ordered was compared across nonfinancial conditions of probation, such as participation in treatment or performance of community service, a positive association was found: those ordered to undergo treatment or community service, as well as to pay probation fees, were ordered to pay more, on average, than those without these conditions. Thus, when probationers had additional conditions of probation that were not financial in nature (e.g., treatment or community service), average probation fees were higher, while the inclusion of additional financial conditions (e.g., fines or court costs) were associated with lower average probation fees.

Finally, when comparing the average percentage of the probation fees actually paid across the sentencing variables, we found that probationers sentenced in rural areas tended to pay a higher average percentage of the fees ordered, as did those convicted of a misdemeanor, a DUI, or a crime against a person, with shorter sentence lengths, and those who were also ordered to pay other financial conditions, such as fines or court costs. On the other hand, probationers ordered to pay probation fees and perform community service tended to pay a smaller average proportion of the fees than did those without the community service order. One obvious factor, which can influence the probation fee collection rate, is whether or not the probation sentence was revoked. Among those ordered to pay probation fees who had their probation sentence revoked, the collection rate was only about 25 percent, compared to a collection rate of almost 80 percent among those who completed their probation sentence.

Multivariate Models Although many of the relationships found in the bivariate analyses were strong and consistent, such analyses cannot be used to rule out other competing explanations for those relationships. Differences in probation fee imposition and collection between DUI and other types of offenders, for example, may be explained by the characteristics of DUI offenders: they tend to be older than other types of offenders, more likely to be white and to have higher educational and income levels, and less likely to have their probation revoked (Stein, 1999).



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