The state is raising probation and parole fees despite struggling to collect the monthly assessments from offenders.
The law authorizing the increases takes effect Monday, although changes will not be made until September. People on probation will pay $60 to $110 a month, instead of the $50 to $100 they are paying. Costs for people who have been paroled will increase by $10 a month.
Currently, less than half of the roughly 69,000 people on probation or parole pay their fees. The state Department of Corrections calculates the average collection rate as 49 percent.
The fees are designed to defray the cost of monitoring offenders after their release from prison.
State Rep. Ernest Wooton, who sponsored the fee increases, said the collection rate is a problem.
“We’re working, as we speak, on new ways to collect,” said Wooton, No Party-Belle Chasse and chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee.? “I don’t want to say anything more about it.”
He said the problem stems from offenders who leave prison with few job prospects.
Wooton said the state locks up few who fail to pay because that would be counterproductive.
State corrections officials said collection efforts are hampered by a weak economy, rising unemployment and the fact that many offenders tend to get low-paying jobs.
The Legislative Fiscal Office predicted that collections will drop even further, once fees increase.
Gerald Starks, interim director of probation and parole for the state, disagrees.
“We don’t really think there’s going to be that much of a drop-off,” he said. “The people who pay now, they’ll pay the extra $10.”
A few changes are designed to step up collections. They include:
•Allowing offenders to pay through Western Union.
•Garnishing income tax refunds.
•Continuing to pursue collection of delinquent fees after an offender’s supervision has ended.
One change still is in the process of being put in place.
The state Department of Corrections no longer wants probation and parole officers to be responsible for collecting fees. Instead, a private company soon will handle that task.
Pam Laborde, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said it likely will be several months before a company is hired.
Starks said officers are spending 25 percent of their time collecting fees. He said they are doing everything they can to ensure that people pay.
“We stress collections tremendously,” he said.
Starks said penalties for not paying include increased supervision.
He said judges and the state’s parole board do not want offenders to return to jail for failing to pay their fees.
Starks said the fees are increasing to bolster the department’s budget. The state is experiencing money problems because of the weak economy and because of declining federal funding.