HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Earlier this month, Beth Shelburne, an investigative reporter, journalist and writer based in Birmingham, Alabama tweeted: "People on parole in Alabama have to pay a $40 monthly "supervision fee" to their parole officer or they can be revoked & sent back to prison. Will be doing more reporting on this in 2023."
This claim piqued our interest here at FOX54, so we reached out to the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles, where we spoke with the director of the Bureau, Cam Ward.
He clarified that there is such a thing as a supervision fee and it goes towards what's called a Probationer's Upkeep Fund.
"It's the Probationer Upkeep Fund. It's for both people on parole and who are on probation. Someone on probation who never went to prison to begin with or someone on parole who was in and got out, but it's a Probationer Upkeep Fund. Yeah... And it was established in 1977, I believe," said Director Cam Ward.
Although the collection of these fees has been written into law. The everyday reality of actually collecting that money looks a lot different than it does on paper.
"I think when they passed it in the seventies, it was a way to cover the expenses of supervising people on probation or parole. Honestly, I don't think it's that important. And if I had my choice and I've mentioned this to lawmakers, I mentioned to the finance department, I'd just as soon do away with it," said Ward.
In recent years, the ability to mandate and enforce the payment of this fee has faded.
"In my experience, it's almost never enforced. I mean, if you can't, if you can't afford to pay it, it's just not collected," said Ward.
That's not to say it would or could never happen, but as Ward is about to explain, it's very rare.
"Now, because I think this is very important. If someone is on probation, a judge who has also supervised their probation can easily say, 'hey, you didn't pay your fee, therefore you're going to get revoked and go back.' Now, that could happen. But I will tell you, really, since 2015, when the law changed a lot to remove that mandatory enforcement... I don't know a single person under parole or probation. There may have been one I don't know about. But if it was, it's very rare, if ever if someone would revoke for that particular fee," said Ward.
He's also aware that for most dealing with parole or probation, these fees can be a huge hurdle.
"They do, if they become excessive, they will keep people down and they will put barriers in place that prevent them from proper rehabilitation. No question about it," said Ward.
As for the future of these fees, well, there doesn't seem to be much of one, with Ward citing that each year, the amount of money collected from these fees decreases anywhere from 20 to 27%.
"My opinion is that fund will probably just eventually just dry up," said Ward.