It’s a fine old mess – $644m in uncollected penalties shows crime does pay

The Southland Times today reports on police arresting a bloke in Queenstown for driving while prohibited and for the non-payment of $8000 in fines.

The Manawatu Standard a week or so ago reported that Palmerston North criminals owe more than $13 million in court fines, and one offender is owing almost $100,000.

He hasn’t made a payment in almost five years.

Moreover (as of November 30) $2.5m is owed directly to victims of crime in the form of reparation.

In other words, offenders who are fined can just keep the money in their wallets and get off scot free.

And if they don’t have to pay for their crimes…?

In that case, obviously, crime does pay.

This highlights the need for the Government to be getting tough on people with unpaid fines.

Alf is sceptical about its achieving much, but –

From the 13th of this month, the Ministry of Justice will have the power to release overdue amounts to credit reporting agencies.

They can then provide contact details of the debtors, so the Ministry can enforce payment.

Courts Minister Chester Borrows says the move will target people who have no intention of paying up.
He says anyone who’s made a repayment plan with the Ministry has nothing to be concerned about.

But maybe another approach would be more successful.

Alf was impressed by an item at Freakonomics on an example of incentives in the courtroom.

A lawyer has written to the blog to tell its editors about a particular judge in New Hampshire, who developed a strategic approach to collecting fines.

Americans, it seems, cannot be sent to jail, under the Constitution, for being poor — i.e., being unable to pay their fines.

They can be sent to jail if they “willfully refuse” to pay.

But to find if someone is willfully refusing, the judge must hold a long and complex hearing. As a result, people are rarely found to have willfully refused to pay.

Instead, American judges have come up with dozens of work-arounds — time payments, delayed pleas to gather the money, community service.

According to the lawyer who wrote to Freakonomics, the result is much the same as the experiments in this country. None of them work on a regular basis.

One judge, however, has a great solution. He offers them a fine “sale.” Suppose the fine is $500. He will tell them “the fine is $1,000, but if you pay within the next two weeks, we will accept $500.”

In my thousands of cases and eight-plus years, no one has ever failed to pay under that scenario. And it requires no administrative costs like the others do, no extra hearing … nothing.

Perfect example of a study in incentives, right? Leave it to those old, smart, practical Yankee judges in small town NH to solve this intractable problem.

Hmm. Why not give is a go here, eh?

The ODT recently reported that one of our unpaid fines dates back 37 years.

The country’s oldest outstanding fine – for “using a cheque under false pretences” – was imposed on September 27, 1974.

A warrant remains for the offender’s arrest.

The Ministry of Justice wouldn’t name the villain who incurred the fine or where the fine was recorded, citing legal reasons.


Inept tossers, come to think of it, because –

Figures released to the Otago Daily Times under the Official Information Act reveal that fine was one of 450,035 imposed on people or companies, amounting to $643.9 million owed to the Crown, as of November 30.

That sort of cash could make a dent in the Budget deficit that obsesses Bill English.

Dunno why we don’t make a better go of trying to collect it.

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