A visitor to Heber Springs was surprised to see a woman walking up and down the sidewalk in front of the Cleburne County District Court building wearing a sandwich board sign with the message, "I am a thief." Turns out, the sight is not so unusual for Heber Springs.
District Judge Michael Irwin says he has for years allowed some of the people convicted in his court of misdemeanors such as shoplifting to choose the sign over jail time. He's never ordered anybody to carry the sign, he says, but sometimes offers it as an alternative. He says some offenders ask if there's anything they can do to avoid going to jail.
The length of time the offender walks depends on the circumstances of the offense. It might be five days; it might be half the length of the jail sentence it replaces.
Irwin said he didn't know of any other judges doing what he does, but some judges have talked to him about it. A number of parents have complimented him, he says, believing that the sign carriers provide a good lesson for children.