Friday, July 19, 2024
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Putnam Circuit Court Doubles Debt Collection Goal

After being granted a new position dedicated to collecting outstanding criminal court debt, the Putnam County Circuit Court doubled its $150,000 goal this fiscal year.

Circuit Court Clerk Jennifer Wilkerson said in ten months since the Putnam County Commission budgeted for the new position, some $320,000 in outstanding fees have been collected. She said while this has been a big lift in reducing the hundreds of millions in outstanding fees, the program also helps the individuals facing hurdles presented by their unpaid court fees.

“We’re just elated about the success that we’ve seen,” Wilkerson said. “And all of the staff members here inside the clerk’s office are super happy to help the folks in the area, so it’s a really great feeling when you know that you’ve provided, helped somebody meet their goals and be successful and get started on the right pathway.”

Wilkerson said the position works in partnership with two Driver’s License Specialists who work with people struggling to get valid driver’s licenses due to unpaid fines. She said the first step is helping a person create a reasonable goal for repayment based on their income and expenses, then building a plan.

“They’re sort of assessing each situation to figure out, what is the goal in this particular situation?” Wilkerson said. “And then maintaining that relationship so that they can help those people or those individuals continue that success and, ultimately, get those cases paid off.”

She said when she took over in 2018, the criminal court system had some $200 million in unpaid fees. Wilkerson said going forward, the office will assess the success of the program and look for ways to improve based on the first-year numbers.

She said she did not request an additional employee in the new fiscal year budget, but another one could be added down the line.

“One of the charges that we were seeing over and over and over, they would violate their probation by driving offenses,” Wilkerson said. “Being out in the car without a valid driver’s license for not paying court fines or not complying with the court’s requirements. And so, that was one of the things that we really wanted to focus on was, how do we keep those cases from continuing to reoccur.”

Wilkerson said word of mouth has been a major factor in the program’s success. She said when someone gets help in developing a plan for fee payment, they tell people in similar situations, and by maintaining those relationships, the court is able to cut down on the amount in outstanding fees and, in turn, the volume of reoccurring cases.