Tylerites struggling to pay outstanding fines or tickets will now have the opportunity to clear their balance by simply reading, thanks to a new collaboration of city services.
In partnership with the Tyler Public Library, Tyler Municipal Courts will now accept hours spent reading, participating in library events or studying for self-improvement at library facilities as credit for paying off municipal court fines.
Each hour approved by library and court staff will equal $12.50 in fees, allowing participants to feasibly pay off their balance in full with enough hours.
Tyler Municipal Court Judge James Huggler said the partnership is part of a larger effort by his court since 2018 to expand community service options as payment alternatives.
“We thought, let’s get with the library and see if they’ll help us so that we can have people who are going to be in a few different categories, like people with young children, getting them in the library, getting the parents involved in reading with them, teaching them to read [and] improving their reading skills,” Huggler said. “If we develop a love of learning, it improves kids and improves their families. It’s just a good thing.”
The court sees around 45,000 citation cases a year, each of which could incur hundreds of dollars in fines based on the offense. Huggler describes Tyler courts as fairly lenient on unpaid cases, but the city does spend time and energy working toward enforcing municipal fines.
Payment alternatives like reading at the library then become a way for Tyler courts to alleviate workload on law enforcement while also promoting more public participation in community service.
“If we get one person through the library and complete their case, that’s a success for us,” Huggler said. “It avoids issuing warrants and having our marshals go out and find people and bring them back to court. We just want whatever plan we agree with between the judge and that person successfully completed.”
Municipal court judges will consider payment alternatives upon request and according to a person’s financial circumstances. Huggler says the court will aim for 10 to 20 participants in library alternatives at any given time.
In addition to people with young children, the court will also consider library payment alternatives for people in need of GED training or ESL classes — both services the library can provide beyond books.
“I think that there’s a lot of assumptions that we’re just a building of books… but libraries are constantly evolving,” City Librarian Ashley Talyor said. “We have a lot of streaming services, videos, audio books, that sort of thing. We also offer family, adult and early childhood games for checkout. We have literacy kits for checkout for small babies. Those come with a bag with books and toys. We’re a family place library, so we have parent-child workshops where we bring in professionals who teach over certain subjects.”
Taylor and other library colleagues will monitor municipal court participants to measure the time and content of each session, which must take place at the library to remain eligible.
As a result, library staff hope to see renewed interest in an established pillar of the community.
“I’m hoping that we see some citizens in there that we wouldn’t normally see and may be able to retain them and help them continue a lifelong journey of literacy and growth,” Taylor said. “We have so much to offer.”
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