Last month, Gov. Deval Patrick unveiled a proposal to raise money for new police officers by charging additional “safety” fees to convicted offenders. As residents of Boston’s urban center, we have experienced the violence and loss resulting from the crime spike of the last two years. While we desire peace in our communities, we oppose the governor’s proposal as it adds undue hardship to offenders and their families.
A fee targeting convicted individuals invariably impacts low-income families at higher levels. The fee is billed at $45 for a traffic violation, $50 for a misdemeanor and $90 for felony. Families of prisoners frequently help pay court fees, face high costs in order to stay in touch with their loved ones inside and often put money in the canteen to help pay for basic needs. An additional conviction fee that will be born by struggling families only adds to their financial burden.
Many of those convicted of a crime are already experiencing economic hardship. Do we need to add another obstacle for those who are serving their sentence and trying to make right? Will we re-incarcerate individuals who cannot afford “safety fees” in addition to probation fees, court fees, DNA fees and witness and victim fees? Ex-offenders already face incredible employment discrimination because of the widespread use of criminal records (CORI) in hiring. Instead of levying another layer of punishment to fund more police, our governor should be promoting ways for ex-offenders to find productive and good jobs. Rather than spend $43,000 a year to hold one prisoner, the Commonwealth could benefit from tax revenue generated from ex-offenders with secure employment.
In parts of Boston, relations between police and communities are already strained. Additional conviction fees may heighten tensions by asking officers to fund their own positions with more and more arrests. This is a dangerous incentive that lends itself to feeding a costly and over-populated prison system.
We understand that Gov. Patrick has inherited an enormous debt after years of Republican governorship. Many low-income families of Boston are also suffering through hard times. Ultimately, public safety and economic health go hand in hand. The path to this balance is to increase job opportunities. Asking offenders and their families to bear additional fees will only deepen financial hardship while doing nothing to address the roots of crime.
The writer is the chair of the Legislative Committee of the Boston Workers’ Alliance.