If your company has a collection problem because people are writing bad checks, you probably don't live in Maricopa County, Ariz. There, a bounced check is a criminal offense. And the punishment is not a slap on the wrist either.

The maximum penalty per check is six months in jail, a $1,370 fine, a statutory collection fee, and restitution of twice the amount of the check or $50, whichever is more. And that's not all. Offenders face" arrest, jail booking, and prosecution" if they fail to attend a $40, 8-hour "bad-check class" on a Saturday and fail to pay restitution. Second offenders pay $125 for 20 hours of classes.

Fritz Powell, until recently director of the program, which is less than two years old, says it has already returned $1.2 million to victims in the area and is an "alternative to small-claims court or collection agencies for both large and small companies." The National Corrective Training Institute of Austin, Tex., which set up the Maricopa County Bad Check Program, runs similar programs in other states.