This is the third entry in a series of posts highlighting GCO’s report, A High Price to Pay: Recommendations for Minimizing Debt’s Role in Driving Recidivism Rates. The first entry provided an overview of the report and the second entry laid out causes of debt for people reentering society from prison.
An inordinate amount of debt and unrealistic terms of repayment create numerous barriers for returning citizens, including disproportionate financial pressure, the threat of revocation and re-incarceration, and various penalties for non-compliance.
Mounting Financial Pressure
Having to immediately begin paying financial obligations upon release combined with carrying thousands of dollars in debt puts tremendous financial pressure on returning citizens. Many leave prison with great anxiety wondering where they will live and work, and some possess only what they were given upon release: $25, a change of civilian clothes, and a bus ticket to their release destination.[i] A great number of returning citizens do not have a decent-paying job prior to prison,,[ii] and their prospect of finding one after release is slim.[iii] One study reveals that three-fourths of people released from prison owing child support, restitution, and supervision fees reported having difficulty paying off these debts.[iv] They may be willing to make these payments but simply do not have the means to do so right away.
Threat of Revocation or Arrest
The payment of debts and obligations is a condition of probation and parole in Georgia;[v] therefore, a violation of these conditions by failing to pay can result in a revocation hearing.[vi] While it is not common practice for the Parole Board to revoke a parolee solely for his or her failure to pay financial obligations,[vii] in some jurisdictions revocation hearings are regularly sought for those on probation.[viii] One public defender in Georgia reports that probationers who cannot pay criminal justice debt are often arrested for failing to report to officers who are involved in collection.[ix] This may not result in re-incarceration, but it may cause a person to miss work and subsequently lose his or her job. However, those who fail to appear at a payment hearing can have a warrant issued for their arrest.[x] Further, Georgia law requires a person to remain under probation supervision until all outstanding obligations are paid, or until the termination of the sentence, depending on whichever comes first.[xi]
Penalties for Non-Compliance
For those who do not pay court-ordered financial obligations and debt, Georgia law allows for garnishment, levy, foreclosure, and all other actions provided for the collection of fines, costs, and restitution.[xii] This can be detrimental for a returning citizen who is struggling to make ends meet. Unpaid debt also may lead to the suspension of one’s driver’s license, making transportation to and from work very challenging, since Georgia law allows for the suspension of a driver’s license for any person who has accumulated child support arrears equivalent to or greater than two months’ worth of payments.,[xiii] This barrier can impede a person’s ability to find work and earn income, leading to more and more debt accumulating. In addition, criminal justice debt can be converted into a civil judgment which allows credit reporting agencies access to the information. This in turn damages – or further damages – a returning citizen’s credit, making it more difficult to obtain employment and housing.[xiv]
A combination of these barriers may lead a returning citizen to become desperate and resort to engaging in the underground economy as a means of supporting himself or herself, or paying his or her debts.[xv] As a result, the returning citizen may face re-incarceration for committing new offenses,[xvi] leading to more debt accumulation and increased costs to taxpayers.
 Fifty-nine percent of people detained in jails across the nation in 2002 reported monthly incomes of less than $1,000 prior to arrest.
 Suspending and reinstating driver’s licenses is an administrative process that is handled by the DCSS.
Some of the citations listed below are abbreviated. To view the full citation, see the “Notes” section in our report, A High Price to Pay.
[i] Laurie Linke and Peggy Ritchie, Releasing Inmates from Prison: Profiles of State Practices, U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections, September 2004, 25, https://s3.amazonaws.com/static.nicic.gov/,76 (tution Procedures,”Library/ 021386.pdf.
[ii] Doris J. James, Profile of Jail Inmates, 2002, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ 201932, July 2004, revised October 12, 2004, 9, http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/pji02.pdf.
[iii] Devah Pager, Bruce Western, and Naomi Sugie, “Sequencing Disadvantage: Barriers to Employment Facing Young Black and White Men with Criminal Records,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 623 (2009): 195-213, National Institutes of Health Public Access, Author Manuscript, available in PMC February 27, 2013, 4, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583356/.
[iv] Rachel L. McLean and Michael D. Thompson, Repaying Debts, 8; Nancy G. La Vigne, Christy Visher, and Jennifer Castro, Chicago Prisoners’ Experiences Returning Home, Urban Institute, December 2004, 10, http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/311115_ChicagoPrisoners.pdf.
[v] Alicia Bannon, Mitali Nagrecha, and Rebekah Diller, Criminal Justice Debt, 21, endnote 118; Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles, “Parole Conditions,” accessed July 24, 2014, http://pap.georgia.gov/parole-conditions.
[vi] Alicia Bannon, Mitali Nagrecha, and Rebekah Diller, Criminal Justice Debt, 25.
[vii] Robert Keller, Deputy Director of the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support, and Reentry, email message to author, April 1, 2014.
[viii] Alicia Bannon, Mitali Nagrecha, and Rebekah Diller, Criminal Justice Debt, 21, endnote 119.
[ix] Ibid., endnote 145; See Telephone Interview with Nick White, Defender, Houston County Pub. Defender Office, Nov. 6, 2009.
[xi] O.C.G.A. § 17-10-1(a)(2): “Probation supervision shall terminate in all cases no later than two years from the commencement of probation supervision unless specially extended or reinstated by the sentencing court upon notice and hearing and for good cause shown; provided, however, in those cases involving the collection of fines, restitution, or other funds, the period of supervision shall remain in effect for so long as any such obligation is outstanding, or until termination of the sentence, whichever first occurs.”
[xii] Ibid., endnote 196. See O.C.G.A § 17-10-20(c): “Fines and restitution can be collected through levy, foreclosure, garnishment, and all other actions provided for the enforcement of judgments in Georgia”; See O.C.G.A.§ 42-8-34.2(a) “authorizing the collection of ‘arrearage . . . through issuance of a writ of fiera facias’ from defendants for whom payment of fines, costs, and restitution is a condition of probation. However, no one the Brennan Center interviewed knew of wage garnishment or liens being used in practice.”
[xiii] O.C.G.A. § 19-6-28.1(b); Tina Brooks, Parental Accountability Court Coordinator for the Flint Judicial Circuit, email message to the author, July 31, 2014.
[xiv] Alicia Bannon, Mitali Nagrecha, and Rebekah Diller, Criminal Justice Debt, 27; See O.C.G.A. § 17-10-20(a): “In any case in which a fine or restitution is imposed as part of the sentence, such fine and restitution shall constitute a judgment against the defendant”; Jonathan D. Glater, “Another Hurdle for the Jobless: Credit Inquiries,” New York Times, August 6, 2009, accessed April 10, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/07/business/07credit.html? pagewanted=all&_r=0.
[xv] Kirsten D. Levingston and Vicki Turetsky, “Debtors’ Prison – Prisoners’ Accumulation of Debt as a Barrier to Reentry,” Clearinghouse Review Journal of Poverty Law and Policy 41 (2007): 188, http://www.clasp.org/docs/ 0394.pdf.
[xvi] Alicia Bannon, Mitali Nagrecha, and Rebekah Diller, Criminal Justice Debt, 24.