Check bouncers are in a class by themselves

March 02, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

It was only a matter of time. Justice authorities have found a punishment harsher than ankle bracelets, harsher than prison, harsher than fines, harsher than community service: School.

That ought to make criminals think twice. You can do five to 10 standing on your head - but going back to the classroom? If they'd thought of this back in the '20s, Capone would have made a living going door to door selling shoes.

According to The Washington Post, "Prosecutors in some Maryland and Virginia counties have adopted a potent tactic to discourage check-bouncing: Threatening writers with prosecution if they don't attend 'bad check school' run by private contractors.

"It is a way for the counties to make money - they get a portion of the fees the companies charge people who attend the courses - and law enforcement officials say the practice saves resources for fighting more serious wrongdoing."


More serious wrongdoing. Like what, having eight cruisers parked by the side of the road waving over people who have forgotten to buckle their seat belts?

"I don't have to use prosecutors to take these cases to court," Glenn F. Ivey, the state's attorney in Prince George's County, told the Post. "The homicide rate is up, carjacking is up, sex offenses are up, armed robberies are up. I could probably use about 10 more prosecutors to handle violent crimes alone. So to the extent there's a program like this that allows us to get good results on restitution, it's a good way to go."

Yes, bouncing checks leads to carjacking, there's no question about it. If you nip these people in the early stages of their criminal careers, the prisons will be empty in months.

Now, of course, there will be some Picky Petes out there who will point out that bouncing a check isn't a crime. If you set out to punish everyone who's bad at math, there are going to be a lot of nervous people in this country, nowhere moreso than your friendly neighborhood newspaper office.

Maryland has contracted with - love the name - American Corrective Counseling Services Inc., which conducts about 2,500 classes a year nationwide.

I wonder if I can audit one of these courses. I'm just curious, is all. I mean, after, "Make sure you have enough money in your account to cover the check," where do you go? How do you pad out the rest of the course? History of checkwriting? Check artwork appreciation? Survey of great American checkwriters?

I also don't see why they have to contract the work to a private firm. After all, who knows more about balancing their budgets than the government?

Or at least the government could use itself as an example. I'm sure back in the 1800s some bureaucrat in the State Department wrote a check for legal pads that didn't clear. Now our national debt, as of Feb. 23, is $8,248,764,007,091.15.

See what happens? One thing leads to another. At the very least, people should stop writing bad checks and start issuing bonds. That makes it OK to mismanage money.

Oh, I'm sorry, did someone say money?

Ah yes, now that we mention it, there are a couple of teensy-weensy fees that are involved in this back-to-school process. There's a $35 "administrative fee" split with the counties, plus $125 for the course itself. That couldn't be what this is about, could it? Leave it to the government to find a way to milk a few more bucks out of poor people and keep the money for itself.

Keep in mind that the people who write bad checks, generally speaking, aren't going to find themselves among the Fortune 500. It's like Gallagher said about the stupidity of banks: "You bounce a check, what do they do? Charge you more of what they know you ain't got."

Notice they aren't talking about making Enron's Ken Lay take any classes. No, they don't want to touch anyone who has the money to fight back against what a California attorney is calling "a scam that has evolved into big-time business."

Heck, I might even try to get my own piece of the pie. Perhaps I can sell the state on Tim's Corrective Counseling Service for Psycho Killers Inc. I'll teach the class myself.

"Good morning gentlemen, let's start with the basics: This is a butcher knife. It has many uses. Julienning carrots? Good. Slicing tomatoes? Good. Splitting open gorgeous teenage babysitters? Baaaaad."

And tell county governments I'd be happy to use it to split the fees.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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