Gulfport is indebted to those trying to keep debtors out of jail and the city out of court

27th August, 2005
The Sun Herald

Wthin weeks of taking office, Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr has demonstrated an admirable willingness to correct what appears to be a long-standing complaint with the city's Municipal Court - without being dragged into federal court. And just as admirably, those who have leveled the justifiable criticism at the Municipal Court have demonstrated a willingness to work with the mayor and city officials.

The problem: the city's municipal judges have a tendency to deal with indigent individuals who cannot pay their misdemeanor fines by sending them to the Harrison County jail. In some instances, this costs the city more money - $15 a day - than the fine.

Felicia Dunn Burkes, president of the Gulfport Branch of the NAACP, is among those who contend this situation is an injustice for everyone involved.

"The core truth is that the city reaps absolutely no benefit as a result of its policy of incarcerating misdemeanor offenders who cannot pay their court fines. It appears that the mayor recognizes that core truth and wants to find a mechanism whereby those who have committed misdemeanor offenses in the city can 'pay their debt to society' without further burdening our overcrowded and understaffed county jail," Burkes told the Sun Herald last week.

We especially appreciate Burkes' focus on "community service as an alternative penalty for certain misdemeanor offenses." Such an option, she said, might permit misdemeanor offenders to discover "through court-ordered volunteerism the joy of giving to others rather than always focusing on or complaining about themselves."

While a satisfactory resolution has yet to be reached, it is satisfying to see individuals in and out of City Hall working in good faith to reach one.