One of the biggest problems facing courts today is the widespread failure of constituents to pay fines and fees. Many court clerks and administration professionals feel like they’re stuck in quicksand: the more they struggle to collect, the harder it is to gain traction.
As a result, courts are resigned to the status quo. To manage the compliance process, they often rely heavily on manual internal processes and on outside collection agencies (OCAs) to do the heavy lifting. Given limited internal resources, some even default to OCAs immediately rather than using them later in the process. But when results don’t improve, constituents bear the extra cost and the poor experience that comes with it.
The problem with traditional court collection practices is far worse, and the impact far greater, than slow case resolution or meager revenues. It’s also getting increasing attention from taxpayers, organizations such as the National Center for State Courts, and even the Department of Justice. Reform is not only desirable, but also necessary for court systems to continue to function properly and serve the public interest.
Here are three reasons why courts need to make improving their compliance process a top priority.
1. Collecting Fines and Fees Is Too Costly
Traditional compliance processes are manual and repetitive. They’re often burdensome to staff, who have difficulty tracking individual cases, prioritizing those with the highest potential for payment, and responding to constituents and account updates in a timely manner. All of this activity consumes significant resources, even as courts face increasing budgetary constraints.
Defendants bear part of the cost burden as well. When courts outsource cases too quickly to OCAs, an additional 15–30% is added to those fines and fees and passed along to debtors who may already have difficulty paying.
2. Constituents Aren’t Being Treated Fairly
A dysfunctional compliance process makes it impossible to enforce quality standards or adjudicate cases consistently. When letters are overlooked or never sent, and online information is lacking, constituents might not understand what’s expected of them. Often, cases are escalated and punitive measures are taken before defendants even know what happened. A lack of payment options and inflexible terms can make it tough to comply.
At various touchpoints in their journey with the court, constituents encounter friction. They feel confused or uncertain. Some become angry about perceived injustice.
If a court seeks to administer justice impartially, a haphazard compliance process undermines its mission. Confusing or poorly administered practices not only make defendants unable or unwilling to comply, but also erode public faith and trust — and increase the risk of civil litigation.
3. The Process Isn’t Recovering Enough Revenues
The ideal collections process results in payment from constituents and swift adjudication of cases, minimizing the number escalated to collections after reasonable in-house efforts to collect have failed.
But many courts aren’t seeing these results. In fact, their recovery rates are declining. They simply are lacking the system in place that nurtures a more compliant process.
Courts that have adopted a service-oriented culture and a more cost-efficient operation have seen dramatic revenue increases. After a seven-year statewide effort to improve its courts’ compliance practices, Texas saw its collection revenues increase overall by 86 percent, or $42 million.
What Does Reform Look Like?
Given the huge challenges they face today—from tightening budgets to worsening public relations—how can courts simultaneously ease their administrative burdens and incentivize compliance?
Clerks and administrators who are stretched thin as it is, and getting so little in return, might be surprised to discover there’s an alternative approach that’s leaner, faster, and more effective. It requires fewer court resources, creates a more positive experience for defendants, and can transform the court’s image and influence in the greater community.
The steps to achieving this transition are easier than you might think. Our complementary eBook, “Collecting Court Fines & Fees: The Path to Nurturing a More Compliant Process,” explains in detail. It’s a must read for court professionals looking to serve the public better and recover more revenue. Download your free copy today:
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