Bad-checks class aims to ease caseloads, costs to merchants

Baltimore, Anne Arundel use courses for offenders

July 11, 2000|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

People caught writing bad checks in Anne Arundel County may be sent back to school for a crash course in personal-finance management and self-improvement.

A new privatized program in the county is building on a 2-decades-old effort by the state's attorney's office that has diverted thousands of cases from court and gotten millions of dollars returned to merchants.

Until now, merchants have had to pay to recoup their losses - $5 or 10 percent of the bounced check amount and sometimes the $25 fee banks assess a merchant when a check bounces, plus mailing and incidental fees - which eats into the sums they recover.

Under the privatized program, all costs are assessed to the person who wrote the bad check - including $125 to attend an eight-hour self-improvement class that focuses on how not to let their finances spin out of control. At the prosecutor's discretion, a first-time offender would not get a criminal record if he or she completes the class, pays the fees and repays the merchant.

"The main difference is that it really doesn't cost me anything," said Raymond L. Sears, owner of Pizza and Taco Express in Annapolis. "I hope this is going to click, that they'll say, `Oh no, I'm going to go to a class at my own expense.'"

The program is run by American Corrective Counseling Services Inc., based in San Clemente, Calif. The company has contracts for diversion programs in about 63 jurisdictions in 15 states, said marketing director Kirk Barrus.

Anne Arundel was the second prosecutor's office in the state to turn to ACCS. Baltimore was the first, beginning last year. Barrus said three other Maryland counties are gearing up programs with ACCS - Baltimore, Harford and Prince George's.

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