WILMINGTON — If you drive around and see people wearing brightly colored shirts and pulling at weeds or cleaning a ditch, know that it may be someone doing community service for the county.
Clinton County Municipal Judge Mike Daugherty said he wanted to come up with a way to punish first-time theft and first-time underage consumption offenders while helping them get a job in the future and aiding the county. They will work with people wearing orange shirts who are doing community service for misdemeanor offenses and currently serving intense supervision.
Daugherty was appointed in May. He won the Republican primary then and faces a general election challenger, Sharon A. Kornman, in November.
“I wanted this to have an element of accountability,” Daugherty said. “I wanted it to be public. And I wanted it to be directed at something I knew to be a public problem.”
So, he spoke with probation officials and together, they came up with a plan to divert their sentences.
In the municipal court’s program, offenders work 13 hours of community service on public property and attend a total of three hours of classes taught by Dr. William Kennedy, a psychologist.
Dr. Kennedy, Daugherty said, teaches about impulse control, “ways that people can avoid stupid mistakes and ways that they can avoid having their friends talk them into making stupid mistakes.”
If compliant, offenders, who must plead guilty to enter the program, have their plea vacated and the charge dismissed; they have a clean record.
“You could go anywhere and say that you had done community service, and we have no way of monitoring whether you did it or not, and you could do it undercover,” Daugherty said. By “undercover,” Daugherty said an offender could do community service with an organization while only the person who signed off on their hours knew they were doing community service.
Further, Daugherty said he was “dissatisfied” with the classes theft offenders were ordered to attend.
“It was supposed to be a four-hour class, and I’ve had clients in private practice come back and tell me that they went and filled out a little worksheet in 20 to 40 minutes,” he said. “We’re all aware: thou shalt not steal. But some of us don’t know how to keep ourselves from doing it, so we choose to steal.
This month, the community service workers cleaned a ditch, culvert and a retention pond that Daugherty said Wilmington would have had to pay to clean.
“The taxpayers pay zero,” Daugherty said, adding that the T-shirts are provided by probation and those in the program are assessed $50 on top of other court costs. That $50 must be paid in advance to participate, he said.
“And the taxpayers don’t have to pay to house them in the county jail,” which Daugherty said costs about $55 per day per inmate.
In the end, participants leave without a criminal charge on their record, which Daugherty said helps them get a job.
“I don’t want people who only made one stupid mistake in their adult life to be unemployed,” he said. “These aren’t evil people. These are good people who made a mistake. … We’re not going to brand people with a scarlet letter. We want to help them.”
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.