New law lets some defendants’ community service offset court costs

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The Indiana Lawyer on 8/7/2019 by Olivia Covington

In the criminal justice world, indigency is a binary question: you either are, or you aren’t. But the reality is often not so black and white — just because you’re not indigent doesn’t mean you’re not hurting for money.

In the gap between people of means and people in poverty, the criminal justice system can be a difficult economic maze. You’re ordered to pay court costs, but because your financial situation is not much better than an indigent person’s, you struggle to make the payments. A default on court costs, generally about $185, can land you in jail, where you earn a small credit each day until your costs can be paid in full.

But legislation that took effect last month is providing offenders in these situations another option to offset their fees. Rather than incarceration, the new law would let people struggling to pay their court costs work off their debt through community service or volunteering.