District Attorneys Have Figured Out How To Turn Criminal Justice Reform Efforts Into Revenue Streams

from the cash,-money,-records dept

Reform efforts targeting cash bail, plea deals, and life-altering criminal charges have occasionally hit on the idea of pre-trial diversion. In exchange for payment and possible an educational class or two, people now have the possibility of satisfying their obligation to the government while keeping their criminal record clean.

It sounds like a good idea. But there’s a huge gap between the theory and the practice. In some cases, corporations like Walmart have inserted themselves into the criminal justice system, freeing shoplifters of criminal charges provided suspects pay the store a few hundred dollars and attend mandatory “don’t be a criminal” classes. Unlike the government version, there’s no chance you’ll be found innocent by a jury of your peers. If Walmart accuses you, you pay the fines, do the classroom time, or get hit with criminal charges anyway.

Elsewhere, government agencies are moving forward with pre-trial diversion programs. It makes a limited amount of sense. People don’t want to go to jail. And prosecutors don’t necessarily want to put in the prosecution work for every rinky-dink case cops toss their way. Yes, there’s not a lot of due process in it, but there really isn’t much in the system anyway, not when most criminal accusations result in plea deals, rather than jury trials.

These programs could result in positive outcomes for accused citizens, who are able to keep their criminal/driving records spotless despite being cited or arrested for violations. Unfortunately, the programs are being warped to serve prosecutors, rather than the public, as Jessica Pishko reports for Politico.

In Louisiana, the Rapides Parish District Attorney’s office asked for $2.5 million in funding from the cash-strapped parish. The treasurer, Bruce Kelly, dug into the DA’s numbers to see what had caused this shortfall. Kelly saw a steady decline in the funds collected by the DA’s office for court fines and traffic tickets. He also saw an office in good physical condition with a fleet of new cars. None of this added up. So, Kelly dug deeper.

Kelly went through old state audits and other public information, and came to the conclusion that Terrell’s office was bringing in plenty of money but keeping it for itself.

He was right. Under [District Attorney Phillip] Terrell, the DA’s office, as shown by public documents, had ramped up its “pretrial diversion” program, also sometimes called “pretrial intervention,” or PTI. As the website for the Rapides Parish DA’s office explains, the program provides “nonviolent offenders an opportunity to avoid conviction and incarceration” through “tailored” agreements in which the offenders pay money in exchange for their charges being dropped and their cases dismissed. In the program’s simplest form, instead of receiving and paying speeding tickets, offenders were paying fees not to get tickets. And those fees were going directly to the DA’s office—whose website features a prominent MAKE A PAYMENT button.

Ah. So the “diversion” in “pre-trial diversion” refers to the diverting of funds directly from citizens to the DA’s pockets. Unlike other areas of the state, diversion fees collected by the Rapides Parish DA go to the DA, rather than a general fund that might make this repurposed reform effort a bit more palatable. But it doesn’t, so the first thing you see at the DA’s website is a payment button.

This resulted in a lawsuit filed by the parish against the DA’s office. The lawsuit contained more details about DA Terrell’s personal enrichment scheme.

In 2017, according to the suit, Terrell’s office had brought in $2.2 million through PTI fees—more than 10 times what the previous DA had captured from diversion fees annually—by charging dismissal fees that ran from about $250 for traffic tickets, $500 for misdemeanors and $1,200 to $1,500 for felonies. Those rates were substantially higher than those of the previous district attorney, according to Kelly.

For years, DA’s offices have just been leaving this money on the table. Sure, collecting fines and fees is cool, but what’s really cool is giving members of the public the dubious opportunity to pay money for fewer due process protections. The DA’s office spends less on prosecutions and collects more money — none of which it has to share with other government agencies.

This isn’t just Rapides Parish or Louisiana. It’s all over the nation. Whatever the public sector hasn’t already stumbled upon, private companies are pitching to prosecutors. It works well enough prosecutors are sort of getting out of the prosecution business. And it may actually help a few people avoid having a momentary, stupid mistake disrupt their futures.

But it’s mainly just a cash grab — one that’s more lucrative than over-enforcement and over-zealous prosecution. Government agencies getting shafted by DAs hijacking revenue streams should be angry enough to sue about it. I mean, the public won’t necessarily come out ahead, but at least they’ll be equally screwed by a number of agencies, rather than a single office with an outsized “MAKE A PAYMENT” button.

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Comments on “District Attorneys Have Figured Out How To Turn Criminal Justice Reform Efforts Into Revenue Streams”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Wow, I understand. Non-American, I hear that’s a thing now. Americans vs. non-Americans. Like a wrestling match, in the mud and filth of the political arena. Muslims criticizing the Christian church, because, well, that’s what they do, they’re married to it (3 times). Muslims are fucking weird, no? The Catholic Church has a long history of reform, improvement, and consistent movement towards a better church that is more and more united to God. Not like those fucking Muslims, who blow themselves and others up, even small children at teenage music festivals, to celebrate their satanism and debauchery. Muslims are animals, they should be kept out of the US, at least those Muslims who practice such terrible humanitarian crimes like stoning gay people to death and drowning their own daughters. There are a lot of examples.

Yeah, the Christian church is not perfect, but it has always done everything possible to become more perfect in the face of the weakness of men. But the Muslim religion, wow, I know a lot of them are peaceful and fine, but the extremists are fucking scary.

Like that Omar lady in Congress. Fucking scary.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes, well, that’s a good idea, I would encourage that idea for pretty much everybody. Not like that Muslim guy who talked about infiltrating other cultures with liars and murders and sexual perverts who dreamed about blowing themselves up to get nasty with multiple virgins. Does that sound like debauchery or what? That’s what those Muslim extremists believe, like that Omar lady. She said people respected Al Quaida, with their shoulders raised and with real reverence. She is a Muslim extremist, no doubt about that. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had a bomb under that headdress. She said no one who says ‘America is great’ deserved or receives respect, or the army deserves or receives respect, but Al Quaida, well, they are GREAT! That’s what an American Congresswoman said, on TAPE, in front of the WHOLE WORLD.

Go home, Omar!
She should go back to the shit hole country with her shit hole incestuous brother.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Yup, you’re right about that. And black people, and yellow, and of course, also white, like you. I’m afraid of bold faced liars and their falsely named “friends” and supporters, just look at Twitter. Or Facebook. I’m afraid of all you globalist leftist assholes that have no sense of what i means to be an American, who never defend Americans or American values, I’m afraid you might take over the country. That would be a disaster. You and Omar for example, scary people both,you are white and she is brown, but you are BOTH SCARY! Because you are both FUCKING LIARS who HATE AMERICA! GET THE FUCK OUT AND GO HOME, BOTH OF YOU!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

The Christian Church is the wife of God embodied in the form of Jesus Christ. The church is inseparable from Christ, as a wife is inseparable from her husband.

No one ever said (and especially God never said) that man was perfect.

The church is the wife of Christ. People do their best to become functional parts of the body Christ as embodied by the Church.

Every Christian knows that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

“Over the top” you leftist asshole? You want to talk about “Over the top”?

Who colluded with the democrats? Who colluded with the Russians? Who’s going to knock at your door with a rifle early in the morning hours with CNN filming?



Oh wait, you are already out of America – you’re just a bunch of fucking ignorant foreigners.

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:


"The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God." – Leviticus 19:34.

I, personally, will follow the Lord’s command in this. If you wish to continue to disobey while invoking the Lord’s name, that is your choice, but the Bible is pretty clear on how this is unacceptable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

Some who actually read the bible think they can pick and choose which part they like, ignoring the rest. This is understandable to a certain extent due to the contradictions found within said bible, but some self serving individuals have gone way too far with this silliness.
Funny how they get upset when called out on it.

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

I suggest you take your own advice, and read what the Law has to say regarding foreigners. The relevant passage is Leviticus 19:34, the test of which is as follows:

"The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God."

Tell me, then, as a good Christian – should I disobey the very word of God, telling me to welcome foreigners and treat them as a native?

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

Let us then also combine it with some other biblical passages:

Leviticus 19:18 – Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

Then in Matthew 22, verses 37 to 40: He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.

Second only to the command to love Lord with everything, is the command to love your neighbor. And while you may think your neighbor is only the American, Leviticus 19:34 puts the lie to that, because we are commanded to treat the foreigner as native-born. God himself has commanded this.

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

John 2, verses 13-17:

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

There is no condoning of the use of the Temple, or the Church, for profit mongering. So if mere trading of cattle made Christ toss people out with whipcracks, how much worse must it be for these supposed men of God to have abused their positions to perpretrate incredibly wicked acts? To then use the power accumulated by a supposedly godly organization to then cover it up?

The Bride of Christ does not become better by denying the existence of sinful behavior. Do not defend these practices. Denounce them.

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

This particular conversation has nothing to do directly with William Barr or encryption, no. This is because the conversational chain I was responding to had already strayed from the topic. My post was in response to:

Man is not perfect. Christ was perfect. The church, the wife of Christ, becomes more perfect over time. There is a lot of evidence of that, such as that evidence that you point out, and the more perfect church has acknowledged and done their best to improve.

This itself was in response to:

The Catholic Church has a long history of pedophilia.


Which itself was in response to a full ranty diatribe that really doesn’t bear repeating. The point of my own post was to take actual Biblical teachings, which the person I responded to claims to espouse, and let the air out of their argument.

If you consider this drivel, you are of course welcome to your opinion, and as it is not strictly on-topic to the article, a flag on the post would be appropriate. That said, most responses to the posts of these seriously misguided individuals would qualify for flagging based on the "off-topic" criterion, so perhaps we should start flagging basically everything?

Anonymous Coward says:

Using the justice system as a racketeering system

In other words, the District attorneys are using our oversupply of laws to threaten people with decades in jail over minor infractions. Then they offer you to bribe option that avoids all that prosecution and paperwork.

This just shows exactly how broken our current system is and every example should be investigated and every DA involved should be barred from life from ever working with the government.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Using the justice system as a racketeering system

Along the same lines I was wondering how long would it take for this to reach the same level as copyright trolling. What prevents them from claiming you broke a law and demanding a fee? This incentives making up BS obscure laws just so the DA can shake down people. Or how long before they just start claiming you broke a law and demanding payment? As we saw with Prenda and others it costs very little to simply threaten people. If they pay great! If they don’t just move on to the next.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Coming or going, not both

Rapides Parish must be one of those places where there are no private prisons. If there were private prisons there, there would be a certain tension between letting people go for a fee vs collecting ongoing fees for incarceration that would have manifested itself in other ways.

Not that I want to give anyone any ideas.

Anonymous Coward says:

As pointed out in the article, in a perfect world this potentially would be a good idea. In the real world, this will be abused to create a profit center.

Including fines and other fees in the LEO budget is a direct conflict of interest. There is no way this can be rationalized without using batshit crazy pretzel logic.

I imagine those who would be impacted the most by this proposal would those who lack financial resources, so exactly how are they supposed to pay anything? This is just another of many tools to control the masses, many of these tools are discriminatory in nature and implementation.

I doubt we will ever fix the justice system because it is working just fine for those who do not give a shit.

Personanongrata says:

Three Tiers for Justice!

District Attorneys Have Figured Out How To Turn Criminal Justice Reform Efforts Into Revenue Streams

The crumbling edifice of equal justice under the law in the US has once again been exposed as a myth.

In reality there are three tiers for justice to be found in the US today.

The first tier is for national security and state secrets exemption. Boondoggles, mass murder, torture, indefinite detention without charge, collective punishment, global surveillance – nothing to see here – move along.

The second tier is for wealth, fame and connections. How much justice can you afford?

The third tier is for the great unwashed – plea bargain refugees in a not so equal justice land.

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