Philadelphia court officials, facing $1.5 billion in unpaid bail, restitution, and other court costs, will aggressively pursue that money by hiring lawyers to move to attach debtors’ wages, seize their property, and even arrest them, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. “We are not willing to let these debts slide,” said President Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe. “This is money that folks owe.”The court created a new Office of Court Compliance to dun 400,000 people who owe money, much of which has gone unpaid for decades. About $1 billion of the money is forfeited bail owed by people charged with offenses ranging from drug dealing to attempted murder.
The debtors have until Feb. 28 to pay up – or at least work out a payment plan with the court – or face the consequences. Of the 48,000 people who are now on probation or parole in Philadelphia, 69 percent are jobless. Defense lawyers questioned jailing debtors. “You’re going to create debtors’ prisons, and we got rid of those long ago,” said Michael Engle. Philadelphia defendants are also supposed to be paying $144 million a year in fines, fees, and restitution to crime victims. At last count, they were paying only $10 million a year, or about seven cents on the dollar. Of the 224,000 defendants on payment plans, 206,000 are behind schedule.