breaking news

Final: Oklahoma State 13, Texas 10 (OT)

Commentary: Abbott can help officers while also ending debtors’ prisons


As a retired Texas district judge who still holds court by special assignment and a current municipal court judge, we support Senate Bill 1913, a bill that recently passed the Texas Legislature and is awaiting Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature.

SB 1913 will give Texas judges the necessary tools to ensure that all people are held accountable when they owe fines and fees related to a criminal sentence. Currently, many defendants end up in jail just because they cannot pay their fines and fees. This is counterproductive because it undermines the defendants’ accountability — and it costs cities and counties money.

SB 1913 provides a wider range of community service options, making it more likely that defendants will be able to work off their fines and fees. This builds the person’s work ethic and provides valuable help to community organizations. It also provides judges with the flexibility to tailor the sentence to the person in their court.

LIKE US ON FACEBOOK: Our Viewpoints page brings the latest commentaries to your Facebook feed.

In Texas, fewer than 2 percent of all cases in municipal and justice courts are currently resolved with community service. One in every eight cases is resolved at least partly with jail credit. It is better for communities if people to have more access to community service and avoid going to jail just because they cannot afford to pay a ticket.

SB 1913 will also ensure that in circumstances where it’s appropriate, judges no longer should wait for a defendant to default on debt before considering whether to waive some or all of what is owed.

Texas has a well-earned reputation for being tough on crime — but that doesn’t mean we should be putting people in jail because they simply don’t have the money to pay their court bill. We need to be tough and fair. SB 1913 doesn’t mean giving anyone a hand out; it means tailoring sentences and allowing people who can’t pay their bills to work it off in another way.

SB 1913 will also save Texas cities and counties money. When someone is put in jail for nonpayment of a fine or fee, we all end up footing the bill. This legislation will make it less likely that people go to jail for failing to pay and more likely that they will comply with their sentences. If judges can work with people on plans that make sense for their individual circumstances, they won’t end up in jail — and taxpayers won’t need to be charged for their unnecessary jail costs.

SB 1913 will also decrease the amount of time and energy that peace officers spend tracking down people for unpaid traffic tickets by reducing the number of warrants for unpaid tickets. Currently, 95 percent of the warrants issued in Texas come from fine-only cases, most of which stem from traffic tickets.

COMMENTARY: Unlikely allies talk criminal justice reform at SXSW.

SB 1913 will give people who miss court or fail to pay a chance to come to court and get back on track before a warrant is issued. It will also encourage people who already have warrants to come to court without fear of arrest in order to take care of their tickets.

By helping people take care of their tickets and avoid warrants, SB 1913 will allow peace officers to preserve their resources for preventing and solving serious crimes.

As judges, we have learned that different people need and deserve tailored sentences to address their unique circumstances. Delivering justice fairly means recognizing that people who come into the court without economic resources cannot be expected to magically come up with money to pay court costs and fines.

SB 1913 is about accountability and common sense. It recognizes that we have limited law enforcement and jail resources that should be dedicated to serious public safety priorities.

For all these reasons, we urge Abbott to sign SB 1913.

Delaney was a Texas district court judge for 33 years. Spillane is the municipal court judge of College Station.

Delaney was a Texas district court judge for 33 years. Spillane is the municipal court judge of College Station.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

In ‘Hue 1968,’ author examines a key chapter in the Vietnam War
In ‘Hue 1968,’ author examines a key chapter in the Vietnam War

Like his epochal best-seller “Black Hawk Down,” Mark Bowden’s “Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam” is the story of a battle. Like “Black Hawk Down,” it is smart, well-reported and hypnotic in spots. Also like “Black Hawk Down,” it might very well become a motion picture (Michael...
Herman: Me, jury duty and the lawyer’s monkey
Herman: Me, jury duty and the lawyer’s monkey

I love jury duty. I’d do it every week if they’d let me (and they shouldn’t). It’s Americans at their best, most of them sincerely striving to do the right thing in the name of truth, justice and the American way. So it was with patriotic glee that I recently was number 18 of 27 people who showed up as potential jurors in Victor...
INSIGHT: How Russians pretended to be Texans — and Texans believed them

In early 2016, while researching some of the most popular U.S. secession groups online, I stumbled across one of the Russian-controlled Facebook accounts that were then pulling in Americans by the thousands. At the time, I was writing on Russia’s relationship with American secessionists from Texas, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. These were people who...
Letters to the editor: Oct. 22, 2017

Re: Oct. 17 article, “As jump in water bills riles Circle C residents, few answers from city.” I laughed out loud after reading Austin Energy spokesman Robert Cullick’s statement that “we have very accurate meter readings.” In February, they misread my water meter by transposing one number and then overbilled me for 2...
Facebook comments: Oct. 22, 2017

As reported by the American-Statesman’s Claire Osborn, a Georgetown woman was accused of falsely claiming she had no income when she applied for health benefits, an arrest affidavit said. Zona Nelson, 65, was charged with theft by deception. Officials with the Williamson County and Cities Health District told the sheriff’s office that Nelson...
More Stories