Article published April 22, 1995
Shifting the burden
A new law for those who write fraudulent checks hurts justice and jails.
In a climate where voters want politicians and judges to be tougher on crime, South Carolina has passed a law to make the system easier on some lawbreakers and harder on jails. A state law has shortened the sentences for people who write bad checks. The law hurts all those involved - magistrates, victims and county jails. The only people to benefit are those who break the law.
Under the new law, a person could write 100 bad checks costing merchants huge sums of money and face a maximum penalty of only 90 days in jail. Previously, a person could be sentenced on each count of a fraudulent check writing conviction. Each count could have meant up to 30 days in jail or a fine of up to $200 plus restitution. A person who repeatedly wrote bad checks could be sentenced to large fines or more than a year of jail time. The law was changed to ease overcrowding in the state prison system. If a person is sentenced to 90 days or less, he is sent to the county jail rather than to a state prison.
The problem of overcrowded prisons needs to be addressed, but the solution is not shifting the burden to local jails. Many of the county jails have overcrowding problems of their own. The Spartanburg County jail's average daily population has increased by 20 inmates since the sentencing cap law was enacted. Instead of solving the problem on the backs of local jailers and communities, the state should look for innovative ways to solve the problem of overcrowded prisons. The state should come up with alternative sentences for non-violent offenders such as fraudulent check writers. The lawbreakers should be required to compensate their victims for their financial losses. They could be forced to pay restitution, interest and penalties to the victims as well as court costs.
Other options include community service sentences and prohibiting fraudulent check writers from maintaining checking accounts. Such alternatives might serve to punish the lawbreakers, compensate the victims and save the taxpayers money.