This afternoon I was at West Bath District Court for fine contempt hearings. Basically, if someone is ordered to pay a fine and then does not, the court will usually impose a penalty (let's not get into the logic of making you pay more when you couldn't pay less), occasionally issue an arrest warrant, and require the person to attend court for a hearing to address why they didn't pay and what should be done about the situation.
So one of the judges in West Bath is starting a program where people are given the option of paying their fines through community service work. People agree to work Fridays from 8am to 4pm doing manual labor under the direction of the Sagadahoc County Sheriff's Office. The work will include raking, scraping, painting, general maintenance kinds of activities. And people will be compensated at the rate of $9/hour taken off their fines.
It is such a reasonable, sensible way to address the ongoing problem of fines that would otherwise never get paid. And instead of putting people in jail, which costs the county more money, people get to do good work for their community. The labor goes towards benefitting the community instead of costing the community.
This idea is so very smart and logical it is crazy that it has taken until 2017 to get it in place in Maine. I am hopeful we will see more courts follow this pattern.