Monday, December 15, 2008

Unpaid Court Fines: Collections versus Arrests Saves $$

Given our tough budget and our jailspace crunch, any idea that can generate revenues while reducing demand on our jailspace is something we ought to look into.

Which is why I put forward a motion today that supports taking a model that has worked in Dayton and applying it here.

The concept is simple. Issuing arrest warrants for people with unpaid court fines (for low-level crimes), and incurring all the high costs of using the criminal justice system to collect on that fine (law enforcement pursuit, arrest, processing, potential jail time, court hearing, etc.), is an incredibly expensive way to collect those fines--especially if it happens thousands of times per year, which it does here. It also is not a good use of precious jailspace. Worse, at the end of the day, after all the laborious and costly process of bringing them through the criminal justice system, we often don't collect the unpaid fine anyway.

In Dayton, facing the same predicament we have here, the Municipal Court handed the process over to a collections agency. The Court issues a "collection warrant," rather than an "arrest warrant," for unpaid fines, and the collections agency does the rest. They have found that this saves untold dollars from the enforcement end, relieves pressure on jailspace, and keeps criminal justice resources dedicated to more serious issues. Even better, due to the expertise of the collection agency, the approach generates more revenue on the collection end--which doesn't just help the County budget, but ensures the defendant actually pays whatever they owe for their crimes.

Bottom line -- if the goal is to actually collect the fine, utilizing a "collections warrant" approach is generally a far better way to go.

The good news is that the Clerk of Courts is already looking into potential collections vendors (through an RFP process) for this concept. I'll keep you posted as they move forward.


Anonymous said...

Better still, have the sentencing Judge give 'em a return date with the dough on fines & court costs. Put 'em out on the partial pay program.

By using a collections broker, the taxpayers are only going to see a percentage of the money, while a sum will go to the collections agency. Have the defendants come back to Court so we get the full 100%.

Ans, how are you doing with charging the jail inmates a per diem for bed & board? That'll alleviate budget problems to a certain extent. It's time to spread the misery & penny pinching equally, criminals included.

David Pepper said...

In Dayton, I believe they've set it up so the County gets 100 percent. Collections gets a percentage above that.

Anonymous said...

Alright, on the issue of the per diem charges. The law says those charges can not be charged to any inmate who is indigent. That's 99% of all inmates. Most persons appearing before the court are represented by the public defender (though the criteria is a little less stringent)and could get most of their fees / fines waived anyway if counsel would step up their work on the defendants end (often the inmate doesn't get the fines waived because the judge would give them more time in jail so they don't claim indigency at sentencing to avoid a longer sentence) So - drop the per diem bit - it's old and it doesn't work.
By the way - the commissary fund at the jail is being illegally pilfered (sp?) by Leis. None of that money is to be used for anything but benefits to the inmaes and the operation of the commissary itself. (Waiting for someone to sue on that some day)

Now, back to reality - Pepper's proposal. Excellent. It avoids the dockets being filed with time wasting continuances for a stay of pay, it avoids the use of the probation dept as a collection's agency ( anybody seen the pay those employees get - it's ridiculous)and frees up countless personnel contingently involved in the process.
I like it.
Also, we can sell the debt and get some hot cash up front (which is a reverse bid the sheriff loves to engage in)But, I don't know if that's legal or if legislative changes need to be made in order to do that with all gov't owed debts - which would be really cool.
Of course, the BOCC would need to draft some ethic rules so we aren't putting people on the street just to pay this debt.

Very good idea. Pragmatic.

Anonymous said...

What an absurd system that encourages people to not claim indigency when they are clearly indigent because they fear a longer sentence. Then they can't pay the fines and get re-arrested...because they are indigent!

I have a client who is indigent, trying to meet the demands of probation, which requires lots of travel to meetings and appointments and court appearances and has $1500 court costs hanging over her head. She is unemployed and having great difficulty finding work because of the demands of probation.

It's like a vicious cycle that the system seems to keep re-inforcing.

Thanks for paying attention to some of these issues that can make a big difference.

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