“People come into court with physical disabilities that make community service difficult,” said Loganville Municipal Court Judge Lori B. Duff. “It’s hard to find adequate community service when you have to be connected to an oxygen tank, for example, or if you are on dialysis. Even if you are healthy, if you are a single parent working an 80-hour workweek to make ends meet, carving out another 40 hours for community service and finding someone to watch your kids can be tough. That’s even harder if your child is special needs or if you have an elderly parent who needs round the clock care and money is an issue.”
Time and time again, Duff found herself facing defendants in violation of probation hearings for not completing their court-ordered community service for reasons that seemed to be beyond their control.
“It really put me in a bind,” the Loganville judge said. “I didn’t want to just let it go – you don’t get out of consequences simply because your life is difficult. But at the same time, these folks could not comply with the terms of their probation unless we got creative.”
Duff, court staff and the probation officers at Southeast Corrections put their heads together to try to be creative in coming up with solutions for those individuals. Although they occasionally use other alternatives, what has worked the best is allowing the defendants to support the troops from the comfort of their own homes.
“We allow defendants to write letters to the troops who are serving overseas as their community service,” Duff said. “We have parameters and requirements for what the letters have to be, so they can’t just scribble off any old thing, and they have to be handwritten so they can’t copy and paste in a computer.
“The program has been enormously successful. We don’t want to set people up to fail, we just want to make sure that they have the tools they need to give back to the community in proportion to the offense the committed in the first place.”
Probationers in Loganville delivered 2,756 letters to U.S. troops for the first drop-off, according to Melissa Kinnon, program manager of Southeast Corrections, who added,“It filled up the drop-off box before Thanksgiving.”
Kinnon and Probation Officer Erica Landress, who supervised the collection of the letters, indicated that the letters were largely heartfelt and well-written, with some written in Spanish. The letters continue to be collected and will be periodically distributed to the troops overseas.