The Pennsylvania Constitution’s Declaration of Rights calls for justice to be administered without “sale, denial or delay.” That mandate shapes the core mission of the courts – delivering fair, timely and accessible justice for all.
Adequate funding with an ongoing commitment to efficiency and the wise and transparent use of public funds allows the mission to be met.
The judiciary strives to save tax dollars by streamlining operations. Over the last nine years, controlling complement, reducing the number of magisterial district judges, renegotiating leases and contracts, containing benefit costs and limiting merit and cost-of-living increases has saved more than $75 million.
Since 2009, fee revenue has been used to fund a portion of the judiciary’s annual budget, currently about 11% of the total. Act 49 of 2009, which instituted surcharges on filing fees and currently provides the judiciary with about $46 million in annual revenue, is one key factor in meeting the judicial branch’s fiscal needs this year and in future years. Act 49 will sunset at the end of 2017.
Collecting fines, fees, costs and restitution is a priority. Each year, the judiciary collects more than its state budget allocation – this year, more than $462 million was collected.
Over the last 10 years, the courts have collected nearly $4.6 billion. These dollars, for the most part, do not flow back to the judiciary. They are distributed primarily to state and local governments, which includes airport and parking authorities, and to programs that support victims.
PAePAY is increasingly the method of choice for paying fines, fees, costs and bail. Use of this online service grows annually, with a 14% increase in the number of online payments over last year and a record $103 million collected online in 2016.
Each day, there are 11 million transactions on the judiciary’s three case management systems and the pacourts.us website. Transactions range from checking docket sheets to paying fines.
The judiciary is requesting $380.4 million in state funds for fiscal year 2017-18.
More than 90% of the increase in the judiciary’s budget request over last year’s allocation is a result of items largely outside the judiciary’s control – most are fixed costs.
Two low-cost and cost-effective judicial branch programs, both developed collaboratively with other parts of state and local government, are addressing major social policy issues: care of dependent children; and drug, mental health, DUI and related types of issues. A new program is working on issues related to Pennsylvania’s large elder population. Each is highlighted here.
Problem-solving courts, including veterans, DUI, mental health and drug courts, divert offenders from jail into treatment if they comply with program requirements. Pennsylvania data shows these courts reduce recidivism on average from 55-60% to 25-30%. National studies suggest that for every dollar spent on problem-solving courts, $3.36 is saved. Pennsylvania data shows that due to the use of problem-solving courts, 700,000 fewer prison/jail days were served in FY 2015-16, resulting in significant cost savings.
The legislature allocated $1 million in 2016-17 for problem-solving courts, money being used in part this year to incentivize counties without programs to create them and to test the viability of regional courts where limited resources and geography hamper the ability to offer them.
Here are some facts about problem-solving courts in Pennsylvania:
• There are currently 106 problem-solving courts in 44 counties, a 300% increase since 2007
• New courts in 10 counties and a pilot regional program encompassing three counties are slated to open in FY 2016-17
• 21,412 community service hours were performed by participants in FY 2015-16
The Office of Children and Families in the Courts, celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. Through its work in collaboration with the state Department of Human Services and local agencies, OCFC has enhanced the lives of thousands of Pennsylvania children and saved hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Office of Elder Justice in the Courts has begun to work collaboratively with the Department of Aging and related agencies to craft and implement strategies dealing with guardianship, elder abuse and neglect, and access to justice for the Commonwealth’s aging population, one of the largest in the country.