City of Clanton named in lawsuit against private probation company

Published 3:02 pm Friday, March 13, 2015

The city of Clanton is named along with a private probation company in a lawsuit filed Thursday by the Southern Poverty Law Center, alleging a “racketeering scheme” exists in the city’s court system.

The suit accuses Judicial Correction Services, which has an office in Jemison and operates in about 100 municipalities in Alabama, of violating the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by extorting from probationers monthly payments that include fees for the company, including a $10 set-up fee and $40 monthly fee.

The city is named in the suit because of an “illegal contract that violates Alabama law prohibiting the charging of a probation fee in city court,” according to an SPLC press release.

“Judicial Correction Services is extorting people for its own profit, pure and simple,” Sam Brooke, SPLC staff attorney, said in the release. “With JCS, Clanton has created a two-tiered system of justice: one where people of means pay and go, and another where low-income and working-class people get trapped for months or years in a nightmarish scheme. The company has manipulated the court system to extort money from poor people in Alabama by threatening them with jail.”

A telephone call to JCS’s Jemison office was not returned Friday.

Clanton Attorney John Hollis Jackson said he couldn’t comment on the lawsuit since it had been officially served to the city as of Friday afternoon.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama on behalf of three Clanton residents, and seeks damages for the injuries suffered by the plaintiffs and to void the contract between JCS and the city.

The lawsuit can be viewed by visiting

The suit alleges the city put JCS exclusively in charge of collecting payments from people who appear in Clanton Municipal Court but cannot afford to pay their fines, and the contract was not put out for public bid.

Those who cannot afford to pay immediately are placed on “pay-only probation,” which means the sole purpose of their probation is the collection of the fines, fees and related court costs, the plaintiffs claim. Defendants must first pay JCS a $10 “set-up” fee and typically must appear in the JCS office once a month and pay $140. Out of that payment, $40 went to JCS for its profits.

When people fall behind on their payments, JCS continues to collect its fee, effectively extending people’s probation and guaranteeing JCS more money.

Neither JCS nor the city court attempts to determine how much the defendants can pay each month, and JCS unilaterally determines the amount of each payment, according to the suit. The city court also has no way to audit the payments.

The plaintiffs–Roxanne Reynolds, Edward “Tylee” Williams and Rodney Ware–claim that payments owed to JCS forced them to go without groceries, skip meals, and ignore medical and utility bills.

Charges against the plaintiffs included traffic violations and missing court dates.

The suit claims that defendants are not told that it’s possible to have the JCS fee waived or to have the monthly payments lowered; and most probationers who ask for a change in their payment plan are told they’re not eligible for assistance.

JCS Supervisor Steven Raymond is named in the suit along with the company itself and the city.

Clanton’s City Council approved a contract with JCS at a meeting in February 2009, according to a report from The Clanton Advertiser.

The city’s police chief and municipal court judge spoke in favor of the business’s services, saying defendants who were unable to pay court costs would have the option of paying over a probationary period instead of being sent to jail.

JCS’s Jemison office is located in the former Jemison City Hall building. A ribbon cutting ceremony was held on May 10, 2011.

Thorsby’s Municipal Court also works with JCS, and town Magistrate Julie Adams said the service is vital.

“There’s no way we could keep up with who owes the money,” Adams said. “It’s a big help to us.”

A contract between JCS and the city of Jemison couldn’t immediately be confirmed, but when Clanton’s City Council approved a contract with JCS, an existing contract between JCS and Jemison was referenced at the meeting.

Maplesville Municipal Court Clerk Cindy Brown said the town uses a similar service provided by Professional Probation Services.

Unlike the claims made against JCS in the lawsuit, Brown said PPS terminates its services if a defendant goes back to jail or doesn’t pay for several months, so fees don’t continue to mount.