Judge offers alternatives to finesPublished 11:00am Friday, May 16, 2014
A work program for people found guilty of misdemeanor offenses and other charges in Warren County Justice Court remains the best idea to curb more serious crimes and encourage defendants to pay fines faster, one justice court judge said Thursday.
“It’s a much better program to get some of these youngsters in the community who are committing these offenses accountable for their actions,” Central District Judge James Jefferson Jr. told the Port City Kiwanis.
In May, Warren County supervisors hired Florida-based Pioneer Collection Services as a third-party debt collector for old fines, such as those assessed in justice court and for past-due garbage collection bills. Two years ago, Jefferson and fellow justice court judges Eddie Woods and Jeff Crevitt proposed a work program for people to work off fines helping the county road department. So far, there’s been no action to turn such a concept into reality. A similar program has been in place since 2009 for defendants in Vicksburg Municipal Court.
Fines assessed in justice court are divided into portions owed the county, state and constables. No statistical update on fine collections this year was made available publicly to supervisors before the collection agency was hired. When judges voiced support for a work program, collections over the previous five years were down more than 15 percent.
Jefferson said defendants charged with misdemeanor DUI, domestic violence, traffic offenses and more often claim they don’t have a job, which makes collections a challenge.
“I have to put that back on the economy,” Jefferson said. “You can’t make people pay if they don’t have the money. If I put you in jail, it’s costing the county $35 a day to house you.”
Payment plans are often assigned in court, to mild effectiveness, officials have said. For speeding ticket cases, Jefferson, also the director of Jefferson Funeral Home, described a novel approach to those offenders. “I get a lot of speeding tickets, and we send them to defensive driving school and such,” he said. “But, I require them to write a 5,000-word essay. It helps understand the ramifications of what they’ve done. And I tell them I read the Internet, too, so don’t copy.”