2016 Justi Awards - Palm Beach County Clerk & Comptroller’s Office

Operation Fresh Start

 

More About Operation Fresh Start

Operation Fresh Start Material

Initiative Purpose

Thousands of people have outstanding warrants in Palm Beach County for nonviolent misdemeanor and traffic violations. These warrants are typically issued when an individual misses a court date.

The Clerk & Comptroller of Palm Beach County, Florida, introduced a special one-day program allowing defendants with warrants for these nonviolent offenses to resolve their cases without fear of incarceration by paying a fine, scheduling a court date or other same-day resolutions.

The goal of Operation Fresh Start was to help these nonviolent offenders clear their records and move on with their lives, while at the same time resolving some of the thousands of open warrants clogging the justice system.

Agencies Involved

Clerk & Comptroller, 15th Judicial Circuit Judiciary, State Attorney, Public Defender, Sheriff's Office, Florida DMV, Professional Probation Services, Palm Beach Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Criminal Justice Commission, Pre-Trial Services

Initiative Description

Palm Beach County, Florida, has approximately 25,000 open warrants for failing to appear for a court hearing for minor misdemeanor and traffic cases. If a person with an open warrant is stopped by a law enforcement officer for a traffic violation, he or she will be arrested, spend at least one day in jail and be responsible for automobile impoundment fees.

An arrest may cause a person to lose their job, which will impede their ability to drive and provide for their family. In addition, approximately 100,000 people in Palm Beach County have suspended driver’s licenses.

Operation Fresh Start's main purpose was to encourage as many defendants as possible to take advantage of this program in order to help them resolve their cases, pay their debt and reinstate their driver’s license while increasing revenue for the state. The program also improved efficiencies by clearing warrants for nonviolent offenses out of the justice system.

Our goals were to:
• Resolve outstanding cases with open warrants without incarceration.
• Reduce volume of driver’s license suspensions.
• Enable defendants to establish payment plans to pay off fines/fees.
• Allow law enforcement to focus on more serious offenses and allow more time to protect our community.
• Provide a viable alternative to arrest and reduce jail overcrowding.
• Collection of past due fine and fees.
• Save taxpayer dollars for incarceration costs.
• Offer same-day resolution to many pending cases.
• Build trust between residents and criminal justice community.

The Clerk’s office publicized Operation Fresh Start though traditional and social media, posters, emails, web pages, direct mail and word of mouth. On the day of the event, defendants voluntarily appeared in court without being arrested. They could then pay their fines and fees or get on a payment plan, and reinstate their driver’s license if applicable.

Initiative Results

During Operation Fresh Start:
• 379 bench warrants were recalled.
• 160 driver’s licenses were reinstated or cleared.
• Over $20,000 in fines and fees were collected.
• 96 payment plans were established, enabling customers to make reasonable monthly payments.
• 123 cases were resolved.
• 133 additional customers walked up to the event without an appointment.
• Approximately $51,000 was saved by the County for the cost of incarceration, assuming that each defendant would have spent only one night in jail.

The Palm Beach County Clerk & Comptroller's Operation Fresh Start program represented the first time a Clerk's office in Florida has taken on a community service event of this nature with such great success.

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