In response to “Taxpayers lose as Maine counties jail indigents over unpaid fines” (May 31):

There is a program in Maine that both supports the community and doesn’t overburden the Penobscot County jail with offenders who cannot pay their fines.

The ReFinement program is a jail diversion program in Penobscot County that allows offenders to pay off misdemeanor fines in community service hours.

Volunteers of America, in collaboration with the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office, developed and implemented the ReFinement program in December 2013 in an effort to reduce recidivism among a population that was repeatedly jailed without a new criminal charge.

Then-Sheriff Glenn Ross believed that incarceration for unpaid fines was not an appropriate use of resources. Current Sheriff Troy Morton concurs.

Participants are screened for eligibility and must be sentenced to the ReFinement program by a judge at a fine repayment hearing. Each offender receives $10 credit for each verified hour of community service.

The participant must set up his or her own community service opportunities, with assistance and suggestions from a Volunteers of America case manager. She works closely with the community service sites to verify all hours and reports those hours to the court monthly. Court clerks note the hours and reduce the total fine amount as if a cash payment had been made.

During the first full year of operation, 108 offenders paid $27,913 in fines by performing 2,791 hours of community service at 40 local nonprofit organizations and churches.

ReFinement has continued operation into 2015; current statistics show 38 clients have already performed 468 hours of community service, paying $4,680 in fines. Volunteers of America is collecting data on how many more offenders would be eligible if the statute were amended to allow civil and felony fines to be paid by participation in the program.

Troy Morton

Penobscot County sheriff

Keri Alley

case manager, Volunteers of America