Nevadans on parole or probation are still on the hook for monthly payments, even as most businesses were ordered closed on Friday by the governor, potentially intensifying the coronavirus’ financial effect on a group of people who are already vulnerable in the workforce without a growing pandemic.
People under supervision are required to make payments covering monthly fees, charges for drug tests and court-ordered restitution to victims. Last week, advocacy groups began to call for governments to forgo these payments as the response to the coronavirus’ spread causes people to lose their jobs.
The Division of Parole and Probation, part of the state Department of Public Safety, has stopped making people visit offices for check-ins, falling in line with other businesses and government agencies throughout the country at the recommendation of health authorities. But the state’s supervision officers are still conducting home visits, and the fees and routine probation and parole payments from peoples’ sentences have not stopped, DPS officials said Friday.
In Nevada, the monthly supervision fee for people on parole and probation is $30, DPS spokeswoman Kim Smith said. Depending on the case and what is ordered as part of a person’s sentence, court administrative fees can be stacked on top of that, along with court fines and payments to victims in certain cases.
“The last thing people need to be thinking about in the middle of this crisis is paying the state back,” said Lisa Foster, co-founder of the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “They need to be taking care of themselves and their families, and they need every ounce of available income to do those things.”
The Fines and Fees Justice Center and other organizations made the case that people under supervision need special focus because many have felony convictions are already live in poverty. Any court-ordered fees, Foster said, should be indefinitely stopped. Similarly, researchers with the Vera Institute of Justice said such moves would be accommodations for lost wages.
Foster said people with criminal convictions, particularly felonies, have limited options for jobs as it is.
“The kinds of jobs they are able to obtain are often low-wage, minimum wage jobs that are likely affected by the COVID crisis,” Foster said.
Federal courts in Reno and Las Vegas have delayed trials. Criminal and civil jury trials in Clark County District Court were suspended for 30 days. The Clark County Detention Center is taking steps to screen people for coronavirus symptoms during the booking process. And the Nevada Department of Corrections suspended visitations at all prisons and facilities across the state.
Executives Transforming Probation and Parole, a group of former executives of community supervision agencies, said sending people back to prison or jail for technical probation or parole violations can exacerbate the pandemic for both people who are incarcerated and people who staff the facilities.
“Outbreaks of contagious diseases in correctional facilities could lead to the infection of staff, incarcerated people and family members and could negatively impact staffing patterns, rendering such facilities more difficult to operation in a safe and healthy manner,” according to a statement from last week.
And locally, Nevada’s chapter of the nonprofit Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants, also called CURE, which organizes to take down obstacles for people during and after incarceration, said Sisolak should consider taking a look at supervision fees. The group under normal circumstances recommends those fees go away but especially right now.
“(Fees) definitely should be waived at this time, while this is going on at the very least” NV Cure director John Witherow said. “I think the governor could do something about that if he wanted to.”
People under supervision are being asked to mail payments to the Division of Parole and Probation. No in-person payments will be processed. That change will be in effect until at least May 1, officials said.