Use humiliation as a tool to collect fines

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 1, 2010

What can a local government do when offenders simply refuse to pay court fines?

Not much, especially when the local jail is full. Putting people in stocks in the public square is no longer fashionable, but some form of humiliation might work.

Court records are public records, so why not list people in debt to the public purse on city and county Internet sites, scroll their names and conviction information on the municipal-access cable channel or publish the names in this newspaper?

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It couldn’t hurt.

Last week, Municipal Judge Nancy Thomas reported that debts to the city for fines and court costs totalling $18,307.33 had been resolved in the first month of an experimental program. That’s less than 1 percent of the $2 million in unpaid fines and costs on the city’s books.

Last spring, Warren County supervisors hired a collections agency to try to get offenders and people who hadn’t paid their garbage fees to cough up the millions the county is owed. That means the county is settling for pennies on the dollar, if it gets any money at all.

Judge Thomas and supervisors are to be commended for their efforts. At least they are not just ignoring the thousands of fines owed to the people of Vicksburg and Warren County.

The city’s program is a really good deal. All an offender has to do is agree to a payment plan or to perform community service in order to have contempt warrants suspended. When police come in contact with any person facing such a warrant, a custodial arrest follows. Who wouldn’t want to pay $10 per month to have that risk removed?

As Judge Thomas and supervisors have said, this is not a new problem or a small problem. It’s fundamentally unfair to law-abiding taxpayers and to people who do pay their traffic and other fines to allow so many to ignore the penalties.

Be bold. Try a little humiliation. It can’t hurt.