The story we printed last Sunday regarding Judge Steve Tittle’s waiver of dozens of probationers fees was a complicated one. But what Hunt County residents should take away from it is not complicated.
Judge Tittle’s actions are dictated by law. According to state law, he must impose a fee on probationers, unless “the judge determines that payment of the fee would cause the defendant a significant financial hardship” (Article 42.12 Section 19(a) of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedures). According to court records, in 79 of the recent fee waivers, Judge Tittle has made no such determination.
Very simply, if there was no determination made by Tittle, then those fees need to be reinstated.
If a determination was made, we would like to see the evidence that these fees would cause the 79 probationers significant financial hardship. After all, one probationer was even able to prepay his fees, which indicates that there was no financial hardship.
If these fee waivers are not reinstated, the Hunt County Community Supervision and Corrections Department will suffer. While the department does have enough of a surplus to make up for the lost revenue, it shouldn’t have to do so.
The fees are required by law to pay for the supervision of probationers, which lessens the cost of supervision on local and state taxpayers. If, in the end, the fee waivers continue, the department will probably be forced to cut back on supervision personnel. Less personnel supervising people on probation can only be a negative.
Our county leaders understand the importance of a fully-staffed and funded probation department. We echo Hunt County Judge John Horn’s words:
“It defies any common sense,” he said. “It defies logic. Because, ultimately, the probations department will reach out to the county or the state to increase their funding, and they will probably see a reduction in their ability to supervise probationers. That’s a scary thought.”
If there is a legally justifiable reason to waive these fees, we would be more than happy to run a follow up story detailing why these fees were waived. But we have not been given any such reason.
The opinion expressed here is that of the Herald-Banner editorial board. The board can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.