Pay Fines With Food? Interesting Idea, Say Wyoming Courts and Food Banks

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Wendy Core, Cowboy State Daily

The holiday spirit is alive and well in the court system of Butte, Montana.

For the first three weeks of this month, a local district court offered defendants the opportunity to waive $150 in fines by donating 30 cans of food to a local food bank.

City Court Judge Jerome McCarthy told CNN, “(It’s) a good opportunity for people to get some relief from their monthly fines.” added. ”

The program launched in 2019 and McCarthy said it has been well received by the public.

But would such a program work in Wyoming?

relieve financial pressure

With money being tight for many people at this time, court fines and fees are an added stress for those who are most likely already facing financial difficulties.

“Of course, fines and fees can be difficult in the populations we work with,” said Heather Carter, president of the Albany County Drug Court in Laramie. Having the option to donate to food banks for community service would be consistently great.”

Carter told the Cowboy State Daily that people he works with in drug court often struggle with basic expenses like housing and transportation so they don’t have to pay more court fines. He said it would be helpful if there was an option to do so.

Benefit Food Bank

From a food bank perspective, increasing donations during the holiday season will help many families, said Rachel Bailey, executive director of the Wyoming Food Bank.

Bailey told the Cowboy State Daily that “a lot of people are in trouble because of high inflation and fuel prices. It’s going to be a tough winter.” “So the more food you can get out there, the better.”

Bailey said many local grocery stores across the state are working hard to meet families’ demands, especially at this time of year.

“Communities across Wyoming are having a really hard time donating food right now,” she said.

Wendy Core, Cowboy State Daily

legally possible

The Butte Program is made possible because Montana law allows courts to satisfy some or all of their fines by donating them to food banks.

Cody District Court Judge Tom Keegan said, to his knowledge, there are no Wyoming laws that would prevent local governments from implementing similar programs.

“The city has set bail for various crimes, but they are not bound,” Keegan said. “It’s still at the court’s discretion, so I think it’s possible.”

However, he said such options are not necessarily in the city’s best interest.

“Food banks will benefit from getting donations,” he said, but the city “will recoup less costs.”

Bailey also acknowledged that while Food for Fine might be a good idea for food banks in the short term, it’s not viable in the long term.

“I know local governments have to pay their own bills and fines,” Bailey said. “But we encourage whatever communities can do now to help their Wyoming neighbors in need.”

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