A Florida judge who proclaims herself "Tim Tebow" of the courtroom for her unorthodox methods of punishment has been credited with helping one man lose 25 pounds in only 20 days as part of her "lose-a-pound, gain-a-day" program for criminal offenders.
Judge Donna Miller of Lake County put 345-pound George McCovery in jail for driving with a suspended license, but agreed to let him get out early if he promised to lose weight, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Twenty days later, McCovery came into Miller's courtroom 25-pounds lighter, crediting the "bland" jail food as part of the reason for his rapid weight loss. Miller let him out of jail early, in time for Thanksgiving dinner.
"It's not easy to lose weight. I thought he'd lose 5, maybe, 6 pounds - not 25," said Miller, 64, whose sentencing proceedings are broadcast on "Lake Courts," a local, public-access television show. "It's like [sentencing] someone in a drug case. I'd much rather have them stop doing drugs than send them to jail. I hope I can help."
Creative sentencing as a form of rehab rather than punishment is part of Miller's reputation. At times, she has offered offenders similar exchanges such as making holiday greeting cards for patients at a mental health and drug addiction facility who were not able to spend time with family.
"Very unique to say the least," said Bobby Azcano, a local attorney who practices in Miller's district. "I think she's a counselor on the bench is how I would describe it. … She's interested in the rehabilitation process. She's not as punitive as other judges are."
"I'm the Tim Tebow of the courtroom," Miller said half-jokingly, according to the Sentinel.
More creative sentencing for non-violent offenders have been more common among judges with a philosophy of "tailor-made" punishments designed to rehab or simply change a person's way of thinking, rather than simply putting somebody behind bars.
In Northhampton County, Pa., judges have been known to hand out unorthodox sentences such as ordering offenders to read classic novels like "Oliver Twist," take English as a Second Language classes and even take a shower.
"Those special conditions are really important. They are the little catalysts that are getting (defendants) on the right track," said Marie Bartosh, chief of Northampton County's adult probation department, according to the Lehigh Valley Express-Times. "It tells the person that the person sitting on the bench in the robe is really thinking about you."
In addition, alternative sentences are cheaper and, some argue, more effective. According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and reported by Time magazine, Mississippi reduced its prison population by 22 percent between 2008 and 2011 by allowing inmates to earn time off their sentences by participating in educational and reentry programs. Crime has dropped since the implementation of the program.