WILMINGTON —According to Clinton County Municipal Judge Mike Daugherty, sometimes an offender can’t afford to pay a fine and needs alternative punishment for punishment to be effective.
Sometimes the punishment that best fits the crime falls between going to jail and doing community service.
And, sometimes, a criminal should just have to say, “I’m sorry.”
That’s why Daugherty uses a variety of community service penalties and from time to time makes someone write a letter of apology — letters that are first reviewed by the probation staff. Those orders usually come in addition to fines, jail visits and court costs.
“The whole reason for a financial sanction is to make people think that it’s too expensive to become a criminal,” Daugherty said. “So I don’t think I’ll ever get away from fining people because that hits them in the pocketbook and makes them think.
“But some people just don’t have any money, and they need to be able to be punished and they need to be able to have their punishment not hanging over their heads.”
Daugherty said the court may choose to allow people to work off fines and costs. The probation office verifies that they are working for a qualified nonprofit, and service is credited at $8 an hour.
Most of those sentenced to community service can freely choose where to do it, as long as it’s a certified charity or nonprofit. But Daugherty said he has specifically sentenced a few who deserve something harsher to the landfill.
“Sometimes the punishment needs to be severe, but it’s somewhere between making them pick up trash and locking them in a jail cell,” Daugherty said. “In those cases, if we make them pick up trash in a real offensive place, it gets the message across without costing the taxpayers $55 for their keep,” the cost per day of jailing someone.
“Every time they dump a garbage truck, little plastic bags fly everywhere, and they usually wind up against the fence,” Daugherty said. “Somebody has to go pick every one of those things up. Those trucks, they get nasty and full of garbage. Somebody’s got to clean them.”
At review hearings, Daugherty said he hears positive things about those sentenced to community service, especially those sentenced to do it by cleaning garbage trucks or picking up plastic bags at the landfill.
“At the end of the day they’ll come back and they’ll say, ‘I will never commit a crime again. I never, ever want to go there again,’” he said.
As for others, he thinks giving them an opportunity to do something positive has a rehabilitative effect, and it helps to reduce the amount of unpaid, uncollectable fines and costs.
Daugherty also said he believes that cancelling fines can eliminate their deterrent effect but, when used judiciously, can still carry out the goal of punishment and can be used to rehabilitate people.
“We have this lofty ideal of we’re going to rehabilitate, and I’d like to rehabilitate people,” Daugherty said. “But some people have just done something and they need to be punished for it. It’s a right and wrong thing. And taking away their money is a good way to punish them.
“Giving the people an opportunity to do something positive, I think has a rehabilitative effect,” Daugherty also said, adding that it exposes them to good people and good influences.
Conversely, Daugherty allows a few people to pay off their community service, at the same $8 per hour rate, though he doesn’t hear many people ask for it.
When sentencing someone, Daugherty said he considers actions and motive.
Stealing because someone is hungry is different, albeit rarer, Daugherty said, than someone stealing to get cash for a drug addiction.
“If that person’s got a severe drug addiction, we’re going to try to target the drug addiction and get them well,” Daugherty said. “If they’re hungry, we’re going to try to figure out a way so that they’re not starving.
“And if they’re just selfish, well, sometimes you just have to create a punishment that makes them think twice before they do it again, and sending them to jail straight from the courtroom can be such a punishment,” Daugherty said.
“Picking up garbage can be such a punishment.”
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.