AUGUSTA (WJBF) – Thousands of people in Augusta with active bench warrants are getting a chance to clear their names and stay out of jail.
The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office started its fresh start initiative Wednesday.
More than 3,500 people can pay off their fines at a reduced rate.
The program has been in the making for several months now.
The sheriff’s office, the solicitor’s office, the state court and the newly-formed probation office are doing this to clear the names of people with outstanding arrest orders.
“These are bench warrants that are based on like traffic charges where you never paid your fine. They put a bench warrant out for you. If you pay the fine, that’s it. Or they put it on probation and you just didn’t pay the money. This is just clearing all that out,” Lt. Allan Rollins said.
Last week, the sheriff’s office put out a list of people with active bench warrants who are now able to turn themselves in without being arrested.
“When we actually finally catch up to you with these warrants, it’s always at a traffic accident. It’s when you’re having a bad day. You were caught speeding, you’re in a hurry to get someplace, you’ve got the kids in the car, there are groceries in the car, and we have a bench warrant for you,” Rollins said.
Rollins says the fresh start initiative isn’t a trap. If you show up, you won’t be arrested. All you have to do is pay your fine.
“We will waive the $35 warrant fee that comes to the sheriff’s office and the judges reset the fines to 40% off. So if you owe a $100 fine, we waived our fee, it’s 40% off… you owe $60,” Rollins said.
Rollins says for the sheriff’s office, it’s not about the money. It’s about clearing out the thousands of old cases — some of which go as far back as the 1990’s.
“This is getting back out and the community, and letting them know that we can be trusted with this. I think tomorrow I’m expecting a little bigger turnout because people see that nobody went to jail today. I know there has to be a trust issue here,” Rollins said.
Those allowed in the program are non-violent offenders with misdemeanor charges.
So far, Rollins says everyone’s reaction to the initiative has been overwhelmingly positive.
“The one that was really satisfied was they found out they really didn’t owe any money so they got to leave with the money. That was driving down the road with a check hanging out the window going this is great and tooting the horn almost,” Rollins said.
The Fresh Start Program continues Thursday from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.
It’s located at the Henry Brigham Community Senior Center.
For the full list of active warrants, click here.