By Jeremy Pittari, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
Misdemeanor offenders have an option when they can’t pay their fines before their court date, Judicial Correction Services.
The service, which has been operating in Picayune for the past year, handled 700 cases, 500 of which have been completed, said corrections officer Sarah Underwood. Completion means the fines for the offense, usually misdemeanors such as shoplifting, driving offenses or DUI, have been paid in full.
Defendants are only sent to Judicial Correction Services if they fail to pay their fine before their municipal court date. At that point the municipal court judge may assign a defendant to probation under Judicial Correction Service’s care where the defendant will then be able to pay the fine in payments, instead of a lump sum. There is an additional cost to the defendant once assigned to probation, $40 per month, Underwood said. Since the defendant pays the monthly probation fee that means there is no additional cost to taxpayers.
Putting them under probation with Judicial Correction Services also keeps misdemeanor offenders from having to spend time in jail, which would be another expense the city and taxpayers would bear, Underwood said.
The program is not just about collecting fees, Judicial Correction Services offers avenues to help offenders get drivers’ license reinstated for those convicted of DUI, get birth certificates and Social Security cards back if they were lost or stolen. Underwood said she and Corrections Officer Greg Kellar are gearing up to include anger management courses, driving courses and courses to help curb domestic violence, all offered in-house. Kellar said the purpose of those programs is to help break cycles in which some people become trapped.
Participants also have access to a computer they can use to search for and apply for jobs online, and there is a job board that lists many local jobs at local businesses.
“If they’re out working, they will be able to take care of their families and pay their fines,” Underwood said.
Kellar said the goal is to help people pay their fines off as quickly as possible, usually within six months. If for some reason the fine is not collected then the case may be sent back to Municipal Court where the judge will decide whether to change the sentence to community service or time in jail, Underwood said.
“We do everything in our power to keep them out of jail,” Kellar said.