Judge asked to block contract between city of Clanton, private probation company

Published 6:08 pm Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Southern Poverty Law Center on Monday asked a federal judge to block a contract between the city of Clanton and a private probation company, according to a press release.

SPLC filed a motion for preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.

The probation company, Judicial Correction Services, has been accused by SPLC of violating federal racketeering laws by extorting money from impoverished residents by threatening them with jail when they fall behind on paying municipal court fines.

SPLC also argues that Clanton’s contract with JCS, which was approved in February 2009, violates state law by allowing JCS to charge probationers a $40 monthly fee on top of the monthly payment toward their fines, and because the contract was not put up for competitive bidding, creating an illegal monopoly.

The charges were first leveled in a recent lawsuit.

“Some of Alabama’s most vulnerable residents are struggling to pay illegal fees to JCS, under constant harassment and threats of jail,” said Sara Zampierin, SPLC staff attorney. “If the city of Clanton had followed the law and put this contract up for bid, they may have found a company that wouldn’t extort illegal fees with threats. Instead, low-income people are being forced to sometimes go without electricity or food in order to pay JCS for fear of being jailed.”

Attorneys representing the city of Clanton in the case couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

JCS operates in about 100 municipalities in Alabama, including Thorsby and Jemison, where the company maintains an office.

SPLC alleges that the company typically operates under the same “illegal contracts” and follows the same “exploitative practices” in other places across the state.

Defendants in municipal court cases are sometimes directed toward payment plans with JCS because they cannot afford to pay fines immediately.

Municipal courts do not have the authority to order people to pay the fees charged by a private probation company.

Under the contract with Clanton, SPLC argues, people on “pay-only probation” must first pay JCS a $10 “set-up” fee. They typically must appear in the JCS office once a month and pay $140. Out of that payment, $40 goes to JCS for its profits. When probationers 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, the lawsuit alleges, and that the city court also has no way to audit the payments.

For more information about SPLC’s lawsuit, visit the organization’s website.