Idea Center

Lessening the Impact of Small Fines

Marin County, Calif., launched a community court to void certain unpaid fines for homeless and low-income people.
by | June 23, 2011

For those surviving paycheck to paycheck, a $50 fine could mean the difference between paying rent or finding an eviction notice on their door. Most choose not to pay the fine, which increases with fees as time goes by. In the case of homeless people, the financial punishment for sleeping outside is just another factor keeping them from escaping poverty. To prevent tickets from putting people into a financial hole that they can't dig out of, Marin County, Calif., launched a community court to void unpaid fines for certain violations, reports the Marin Independent Journal. To qualify, violators must complete an alternative sentence, which varies based off the individual case but is usually aimed at helping people with their individual challenges. Attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, showing documentation of a job search, and finishing physical therapy are just a few of the sentences that have been given out. The person to decide the sentence is Marin Superior Court Commissioner Beverly Wood, who takes time out of her schedule to hear the community court cases at no extra charge. The court currently has no funding and everyone is a volunteer, but organizers hope to secure funding to make the six-month pilot program a permanent fixture. In addition to saving people from what they would consider heavy fines, the court also connects them to agencies that can address their other issues, including medical and substance abuse problems.

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