Financial Impact of Warrant Forgiveness Program

As jails across the country deal with overcrowding, racial disparities, and class-based challenges, Harris County hosted the second of several warrant expungement programs in July 2018. The program was a success, with over 1,200 individuals attending with hopes of having their records cleared.

The“Make it Right” warrant expungement event in July screened 350 individuals. Of the 238 people who received counsel on matters of their criminal background, 87 sought advice about identification restoration matters, resulting in 67 criminal records being erased. Forty-two of these individuals were able to have 42 active warrants removed, allowing them to avoid the financial burden of court fees and the opportunity to save them from the fear of arrest. For those warrants being removed, these people were estimated to save $323,250(fines and fees waived).

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg’s intends to use law enforcement resources more effectively. By removing from  the system any outstanding non-violent misdemeanor warrants, the county can refocus its efforts on the crimes that present the greatest harm to public safety.

Starting at 8:30 a.m., an hour before the doors opened, the line for the warrant expungement program wrapped around North Shore High School . Though men and women of all ages waited in line, it was clear that Blacks and Hispanics represented an overwhelming majority of those seeking expungement. There were sighs of relief as individuals left this event knowing that they no longer had to look over their shoulders out of fear of being arrested for low-level,non-violent offenses. In fact, one participant said that she had been “dodging”the police since 2004 due to her inability to pay for a warrant resulting from a $150 traffic ticket. Another participant shared that she could not take care of her outstanding warrant due to lack of child care during court hours.

Jennifer Wyatt Bourgeois, M.S.
Graduate Research Fellow, Center for Justice Research at Texas Southern University Jennifer Wyatt Bourgeois is a doctoral student in the Department of the Administration of Justice in the Barbara Jordan – Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs and a graduate research fellow in the Center for Justice Research at Texas Southern University.

About the Center for Justice Research

The Center for Justice Research is a nonpartisan research center devoted to data-driven solutions for an equitable criminal justice system. The primary focus is to produce innovative solutions to criminal justice reform efforts by utilizing an experienced group of researchers working to understand and address the current challenges of the criminal justice system.