Pay a fine or do community service? New program gives some offenders the choice

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — A new program for offenders is now underway in New Haven. “Project Green Thumb” gives people charged with minor offenses a choice on whether or not to pay a fine.

Hari Ramesh was one of the 134 protesters arrested for causing a public disturbance during a sit in at Yale back in December. They were protesting what they say is a “jobs crisis” in New Haven. He and the other protesters had committed what police call a “quality of life crime.” Under Project Green Thumb offenders charged with those crimes can either pay a fine or do community service.

“This is a visible and really kind of fun way to pay back our civil disobedience,” said Ramesh.

On Saturday morning, the protesters grabbed their shovels and cleared snow from city streets and benches. However, many of the people charged with quality of life crimes prefer community service for another reason. They can’t afford to pay the fines, which are about $100.

“A lot of the people that we’re encountering out here are down on their luck,” said Sgt. Roy Davis of the New Haven Police Department, who created the program. “They’re either homeless or they have substance abuse problems or they’re mentally ill.”

Project Green Thumb was a way for police to hold offenders accountable while keeping them out of the criminal justice system. Offenders can speak to police about setting up a time to do five hours of community service, like shoveling snow.

Protesters and their supporters continued to push for more jobs in the Elm City on Saturday morning. But they’re optimistic about Project Green Thumb and hope it will be good for the community.

“I think that is a tremendous thing,” said Rev. Scott Marks, Director of New Haven Rising and Pastor of New Growth Outreach Ministries. “When they’re volunteering it should be in the direction of having a better quality of life.”

Officials are hoping to eventually link other services, like job assistance, with Project Green Thumb.

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