Criminal Debt Collection Project
Over the past two years, the federal government, first through the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation into law enforcement practices in Ferguson, Missouri, and later via related White House efforts, has cast a spotlight on unconstitutional court practices as relates to the assessment and enforcement of criminal fines and fees. These efforts lead to DOJ’s Dear Colleague Letter, in March 2016, outlining seven principles for administering fines and fees in a manner consistent with the U.S. Constitution. During this same time frame, Texas judges, court administrators, and advocates have been examining state and local practices for collecting fines and fees, to ensure that municipal and justice of the peace courts are complying with the Constitution and state laws. These statewide efforts lead, among other things, to the Texas Office of Court Administration’s adoption of new Collection Improvement Program rules on September 2, 2016.
In the Spring of 2016, to promote the work going on here in Texas and to highlight innovative court practices, the Justice Center hosted two Stakeholder Convenings on Class C Fines and Fees, bringing together municipal and justice of the peace judges, state officials, and advocates. The first convening discussed ways in which existing practices for the assessment and collection of court fines and fees in Class C proceedings mirror practices that have been documented nationally in Ferguson and elsewhere, and considered existing resources as well as potential statutory and regulatory changes that could serve to promote access to justice and fair outcomes for all Class C defendants regardless of their income. In the second convening, speakers shared their insights on current court practices around the state that serve as potential models for addressing concerns that have been raised about the fairness of some existing systems for the assessment and collection of court fines and fees in Class C proceedings.
Summaries of the Justice Center’s convenings, the new Collection Improvement Program rules, and DOJ letter are available on this page.