- Office of State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump
Media Contact for Audit Finds Disparities in Administration of Probation Supervision Fees in Massachusetts Courts
Mike Wessler, Communications Director
Boston — An audit released today by the Office of the State Auditor found inconsistent administration of probation fees and enforcement of community service requirements across the Massachusetts Trial Court. The audit found that waivers of the mandatory monthly probation supervision fee (PSF) were granted without required documentation, assessments were made against people not on probation, and there were errors in the administration of the community-service program. This audit summarizes a series of audits relative to the implementation of probation fee assessments at 16 courts across the Commonwealth.
“The audit found that the law guiding the courts about probation fees and/or community service was interpreted and implemented differently across the 16 courts at which we conducted our review,” said State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump. “Fair and equitable treatment under the law is at the heart of our criminal justice system but our audit found that rather than justice being impartial, the fate of many residents has instead been a matter of geography and dependent on which court supervised them during their probation period.”
A PSF is a monthly fee that judges are required by law to assess for a criminal offender placed on probation. These fees range from $50 to $65, depending on the level of oversight required of the probationer. Under Massachusetts law, these fees can be waived if the individual on probation is making monthly restitution payments that are greater than the amount of the PSF or if the court finds the fee would create an undue hardship, in which case community service is instituted in place of the fee.
The audit found that the Trial Court was not properly enforcing PSFs, and was not documenting waivers to these required fees. It also found that some judges failed to decide whether a probationer should pay the fee or perform community service, instead delegating that decision to probation officers. Also, some judges incorrectly assessed PSFs or collected them against individuals who were not on probation. Finally, the audit found that some individuals were allowed to perform community service instead of paying PSFs, despite court orders to pay those fees.
“Inconsistency in assessing or documenting waivers of the required fees means the Trial Court, through its district court locations, may not be collecting the revenue it should,” said Bump.
The audit also found that the community-service program is not uniformly implemented across the Commonwealth and recommended that the Trial Court implement an adequate process to record and account for service performed.
Since the audit was conducted, Trial Court officials have reported that they have begun to take steps to implement the recommendations identified in the audit.
In addition to this audit, the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) will release audits of implementation of PSFs at 16 District Court locations in the coming weeks. Prior to this group of audits focused on the oversight of probation supervision fee assessments at district courts, the OSA identified similar trends at superior courts in 2014 and 2015. Those prior audits identified that monthly probation fees were not being waived, assessed, or collected properly at five superior courts – Barnstable, Bristol, Franklin, Hampshire, and Plymouth and that community service hours were not being properly tracked at the Barnstable, Bristol, Franklin, and Hampshire superior courts.