By Michele Hanisee
A new lawsuit filed against Los Angeles County over probation costs has highlighted how victims are being shortchanged by the County. The lawsuit claims that the County is overcharging probationers with fines and fees they can’t afford, while the Board of Supervisors is putting that money in their own coffers instead of first compensating victims as required by law.
As detailed in our previous article, LA County Board of Supervisors needs to ensure “Civil Justice” for crime victims, victims often suffer economic loss at the hands of criminals, and for many, that loss can be devastating. Whether it is the loss of a car, the loss of a phone and wallet taken during a robbery, or compensation for hospital bills when a victim is injured, the amounts aren’t trivial. Current figures show that in Los Angeles County, AB 109 probationers owe their victims over $4 million in restitution. The County, which through its’ probation department has the authority to seek to collect victim restitution, is doing little to help crime victims collect that money.
If probation expires with restitution owing, the money is converted to a civil judgment, and it is left to the victim to try to collect that amount from the defendant through the civil legal process. This is just one of the collateral consequences of crime that a victim suffers, and one which could be addressed by the creation of a “Civil Justice Unit” for crime victims.
If the lawsuit claims are correct, here’s a more straightforward solution. Since the Board of Supervisors is so concerned about collateral consequences for those who commit a crime, they should stop charging probationers for the cost of probation supervision. That will eliminate financial hardship to the probationer and prevent violations of probation based on the failure to pay probation fees. Relieved of having to pay the County for probation costs, the probationers can then direct that money not spent for supervision to pay the restitution ordered to their victims. Most importantly, the County needs to make sure that money owed to crime victims is directed to crime victims. To that end, the County should provide civil legal assistance to victims to help them collect all of what is owed to them, even after probation expires.
Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.