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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Proactive approach results in collection of more court fees, less jail time for minor offenses

Proactive approach results in collection of more court fees, less jail time for minor offenses

Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre announced nearly $240,000 in fines and court costs have been collected in the past 11 months thanks to a new proactive approach to curb the number of warrants issued and arrests.

The Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office and the 17th Judicial District of the State of Louisiana initiated the effort to assist those who owe money following court decisions to avoid jail time for failure to pay.

“We recognized that many people simply forgot to pay fines or were unable to pay before the deadline, resulting in a warrant being issued for their arrest,” said Sheriff Craig Webre. “We’ve since found that many people are willing to pay what they owe if simply given appropriate structure to do so. By implementing payment plans, we can ensure those who owe the courts are paying in cash rather than time served. The end result is the court system functioning properly, and citizens avoiding arrest and jail time.”

Traditionally in these cases, after identifying an individual who has failed to pay fines and costs as ordered by the 17th Judicial District, the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office must then create and submit an affidavit and apply for a warrant for that person’s arrest for Contempt of Court.

As part of the new proactive effort, the LPSO Judicial Services Division is able to keep track of each case and how much is owed using Zuercher Suite software (by Zuercher Technologies).

LPSO employees then try to contact each individual and remind them about the due date. In many cases, the payment had simply slipped the individual’s mind, and a payment is often made at that time. If an individual is unable to pay, a payment plan is initiated so that the payment can be made in installments over time.

Since the program’s inception in October 2015 until September 1, 2016, payment plans have resulted in the collection of $221,283.34.

More than 62% of the total collected is attributed to closed payment plans. The remaining amount has been collected from ongoing payment plans which are on pace to collect nearly $180,000 in additional payments.

In addition to monies collected via the payment plans, LPSO has collected an additional $18,008.43 by utilizing tax intercepts from those who do not complete payments despite the new flexible system.

Louisiana residents can have a lien placed on their income tax withheld by the State for several reasons such as failure to pay child support, repayment of student loans, or – as in this case – payment of fines or other court ordered penalties.

As of September 1, 2016, the grand total of payments of fines and costs collected from payment plans and tax intercepts was $239,291.77.

Captain J.P. deGravelles, Commander of the Judicial Services Division, said the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I think the results speak volumes for the success of the program thus far,” said Captain deGravelles. “On top of that, people benefitting from the program have been very appreciative for our willingness to work with them, especially during these rough economic times for parts of our region. While most people mail payments or conduct payments by phone, we’ve had several individuals bring their last payment in person simply to thank us. It’s been a very rewarding and positive experience for us as well as those we have assisted.”

Sheriff Webre also said the effort also helps reduce costs of housing inmates.

“Due to jail overcrowding, we are forced to house inmates out of parish,” said Sheriff Webre. “By ensuring these individuals pay their fines and avoid jail time, we are accounting for a significant cost savings of taxpayers’ dollars.”

For those who owe fines and costs, payments can be made in person via cash, check, money order, or credit/debit card at the LPSO Administrative Office (200 Canal Boulevard, Thibodaux), the Criminal Operations Center (805 Crescent Avenue, Lockport), or the South Lafourche Sub-station (102 West 91st Street, Cut Off).

Payments can also be made over the phone via credit or debit card by calling (985) 449-4428 in Thibodaux or (985) 632-5843 in Cut Off.

Enhancements to allow for additional payment methods are planned for the future.

In addition to assisting individuals before a warrant is issued, anyone who currently has a warrant for their arrest for failure to pay fines and costs is encouraged to contact the Judicial Services Division at (985) 449-4429. LPSO will assess each individual situation and attempt to find a solution.