In Pennsylvania, Montgomery County officials report they have collected more than $1.2 million in just 10 months in delinquent court fees and fines dating to 1986.
Since offering people a chance to avoid a collection agency and pay what they can afford, Clerk of Courts Ann Thornburg Weiss' office has seen explosive growth in collections.
Michael Paston, the county's first deputy clerk of courts who is leading the effort, said the key has been setting up payment plans people actually can follow. He sends notices to about 300 people a month, offering to remove collections if they can stick with a payment plan. Nearly 2,300 people have accepted the offer.
For years, Montgomery County - located adjacent to Philadelphia County - had followed a more passive approach to collecting court delinquencies. Accounts more than 90 days late were referred to a collection agency, which would commonly add a 25% fee, but if that failed, Weiss said there were few options.
But by the end of June, under the new program, nearly 350 people had paid in full. Roughly 75% of those who set up payment plans have kept up with them. The county still has the option of referring those who default to collection agencies or even charging them with contempt of court.
Paston and Weiss modeled the payment plan offer after a similar program adopted in Westmoreland County, Pa, where Clerk of Courts Bryan L. Kline began going after delinquents in 2012. Kline had served on a statewide restitution task force and was moved by the victims who were still waiting to be repaid years after the crime. But two years after the task force released its report, few counties in Pennsylvania have taken up its recommendation.
For Montgomery County, it has been a matter of time and resources. Paston reports spending about 70% of his time on delinquents. He said some people committed to paying as little as $5 a month.