Unpaid criminal court fees continue to pile up in Yakima County

Unpaid criminal court fees continue to pile up in Yakima County »Play Video
YAKIMA, Wash. -- Every year Yakima County Clerk's Office loses thousands upon thousands of dollars due to unpaid criminal fines.

KIMA spoke with officials to see what's being done about the ongoing problem and how if affects our community.

It's easy to point out the first hand affects of crime in our community. Whether stolen cars or physical assaults, Yakima has seen it's share.

But what often goes unseen, are the ways criminals continue to hurt our community after their sentencing is over.

Every year the clerk's office loses thousands of dollars from unpaid criminal transactions.

"Those fees and fines are assessed to help the work flow of the court system run, along with giving victims restitution when a crime occurs," said Jessica Albert, Administrative Supervisor for Yakima County Clerk's Office.

Some of the common reasons for unpaid fees is the defendant is in prison, moved from the area and can't be found, or is homeless.

The people that suffer the most when the defendants don't pay their fees are the victims, as most of the money goes to the state for their medical and counseling needs.

"It's a sense of justice for the victims in a monetary, if you look at it from a monetary perspective," said Albert.

This year the courts collected more than $600 thousand in criminal fees and just under $30 thousand from juveniles, yet that's only about 20 percent of what they're owed.

That's similar to last year when the clerk's office started sending reminders in the mail, which helped initially until the person in that position left their job. With a tight budget, there hasn't been enough money to hire new staff.

Yet the plan for 2014 is to potentially hire 2 new workers.

"They're going to work extensively with our collection agency to ensure cases are getting turned over on time and they're going to follow up with the collection agency to make sure we're getting the results we need," said Albert.

To bring a sense of justice to our victims and keep the system running.

Defendants must go to the clerk's office to make a payment arrangement as part of their sentencing. If they don't pay their fees after 30 days, their cases are handed over to the collection agency.