You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myStatesman.com.

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.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Commentary: Supporting refugees a Jewish, American and Texas tradition
Commentary: Supporting refugees a Jewish, American and Texas tradition

The United States was founded on the principles of religious freedom by refugees fleeing religious persecution. Closing our doors to refugees on the based on religion denies this historical legacy. Considering our current administration’s desire to limit the refugee resettlement program, faith communities across the United States — including...
Commentary: How liberals created the double murder of Otto Warmbier
Commentary: How liberals created the double murder of Otto Warmbier

We may never know what brutal torture and malign neglect American student Otto Warmbier suffered at the hands of North Korea’s dictatorship before losing his life at the age of 22. But it wasn’t the first time the free-spirited Ohio native died. More than a year before succumbing to the unknown illness or injury that left him in a coma...
Medicaid’s rise symbolic of liberals’ welfare state run amok

The number of Americans enrolled in Medicaid has increased from 29 million in 1990 to 73 million today — an increase of 252 percent over a period when the nation’s population increased 30 percent. Total spending on Medicaid today is $574 billion, 275 percent above the $209 billion of 2000. Medicaid amounts to about 40 percent of the total...
Herman: Energy Secretary Rick Perry energetic in White House spotlight
Herman: Energy Secretary Rick Perry energetic in White House spotlight

Our current governor might be decidedly down on Austin, but, bless his heart, our most recent former governor on Tuesday put in a high-profile tourism pitch for his former longtime hometown. During a half-hour guest appearance at Tuesday’s White House briefing (back on camera this time!), Energy Secretary Rick Perry turned a somewhat-awkward...
Herman: Boys State kick-starts its own Texas secession movement
Herman: Boys State kick-starts its own Texas secession movement

Looks like some boys who fancy themselves as future leaders of the state of Texas actually think it would be even fancier to be future leaders of the nation of Texas. In a move that’s drawn attention around the U.S., the 1,100 rising high school seniors who proudly wear the Boys State T-shirt voted overwhelmingly at the Capitol on June 15 for...
More Stories