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Program Targeting ‘Forgotten’ Court Costs Nets $141K in 6 Months

January 21, 2021

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media Contact: James O'Malley, 215-348-6414, jtomalley@buckscounty.org

A Bucks County Clerk of Courts initiative to recoup “forgotten” court costs has raked in more than $140,000 in the six months since first corresponding with delinquent defendants.

Targeting unpaid fees from 15- and 30-year-old court cases, the Delinquency Recovery Program (DRiP) between June and early January arranged more than 750 payment plans with defendants in arrears, Clerk of Courts Brian Munroe announced Wednesday. 

The payments were “monies that were just sitting there uncollected, forgotten in a sense,” Munroe said during this week’s meeting of the Bucks County Commissioners.

Inspired by similar programs in other Pennsylvania counties, Munroe created DRiP last year to chip away at Bucks County’s $200 million mountain of unpaid court costs. Some $80 million of that figure, Munroe said, is owed to victims of crime.

In its first six months, the program has brought in $141,655, surpassing the cost of salaries and benefits of the workers hired to facilitate the program.

Munroe said the program is projected to double the sum by mid-2021.

The program’s benefit to crime victims is fast becoming a point of pride for Munroe and his office.

“Imagine being a victim back in 1990 owed who knows how much money, and all of a sudden 30 years later you get a phone call from this county,” he said. “Most often, if you don’t receive a penny for 30 years, you’re going to write that off.”

In addition, DRiP is a boon to defendants, Munroe added, as it extends an opportunity to settle old debt.

The program takes a “pay what you can” approach in negotiating payment plans, and follows up with defendants via text message.

Of those defendants who have set up payment plans, more than 200 have paid their debts in full. The remainder continue to make monthly installments.

“There’s real emotion involved when somebody finally digs themself out of debt,” Munroe said.

DRiP mailed its first hearing notices in June, and in the intervening months sent more than 2,600. The program has recorded a response rate of about 34 percent.

Response rates are likely to improve as the program gradually shifts focus to more recent cases and case participants become easier to locate, Munroe said.

As a starting point, DRiP staff chose to focus on cases from only the years 1990 and 2005. Now in the back half of its first year, the program has added 1991 cases as well.