Alabama Judge Rebukes Private Correctional Company For Running ‘Debtors Prison’

I can’t believe that in these economic times for middle class and low income workers, that this exists at all.  Are we in France during the 16th century as in… Les Misrables?

Think Progress

In 2010, four residents of Harpersville, Alabama filed suit against several local officials and private prison company Judicial Corrections Services, alleging that they were illegally imprisoned in the Shelby County jail.

The charges were alarming: the four inmates claim low income defendants are routinely denied adequate counsel, are not advised on their constitutional rights and — most egregiously — are saddled with outrageously high fines and bond rates that the indigent have no way of paying.

On Wednesday, Shelby County Circuit Court Judge Hub Harrington handed down his decision, and tore into the defendants:

When viewed in a light most favorable to Defendants, their testimony concerning the City’s court system could reasonably be characterized as the operation of a debtors prison. The court notes that these generally fell into disfavor by the early 1800′s, though the practice appears to have remained common place in Harpersville. From a fair reading of the defendants’ testimony one night ascertain that a more apt description of the Harpersville Municipal Court practices is that of a judicially sanctioned extortion racket. Most distressing is that these abuses have been perpetrated by what is supposed to be a court of law. Disgraceful.

Judge Harrington goes on say that defendants appearing before the Harpersville Municipal Court are “subjected to repeated and ongoing violations of almost every safeguard afforded by the Unite[d] States Constitution, the laws of Alabama and the Rules of Criminal Procedure.”

At issue are the fines that JCS is authorized to impose if an individual convicted of a crime is not immediately able to pay the imposed fine. That person is placed on “probation,” and JCS begins to collect an additional $35 fee every day the individual does not pay in full his or her penalty. If the mounting debt is not paid, JCS forwards the case back to the court and the person is imprisoned for “probation violations” with no adjudication.

The ruling, which enjoined the court and JCS from further imprisoning probation violators and added a 30 day grace period for individuals to pay off a court-ordered penalty before JCS begins to charge their $35 fee, highlights yet another problem with states’ growing reliance on private companies to run corrections services.

In Florida, lawmakers who accepted thousands of dollars from private prison companies have passed legislation to expand private prison contracts, in Arizona Governor Jan Brewer acceptedmore than $60,000 from another private prison company in exchange for favorable legislation, and in Pennsylvania, a judge was sentenced to 28 years in prison after it was revealed he channeled hundreds of young people into privately run juvenile detention facilities in exchange for lofty payouts.

4 comments

  1. Private prisons and privately operated municipal, county, state and federal prisons are one of the most unreasonable and — in m any cases, inhumane — scams being perpretrated on the U.S. taxpayers. Any politician accepting any type of remuneration from a private contractor should be prosecuted.

    My level of expertise on the subject? 20 years experience in management positions with the Federal Prison System..

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  2. This really reinforces my notion that everyone should read more Dickens.

    But it also illustrates the Biblical concept that the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil. If prisons are run for profit, then the managers are going to try to maximize their profit, which means more inmates.

    It is not hyperbole at all to call this evil.

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    1. It is all about profit for the contractor, not savings for the state.

      Here’s a quote from a Huffington Post article in February of this year: “..critics point to inherent problems in such long-term contracts, particularly provisions that require a prison to be 90 percent full throughout the life of an agreement. In Ohio, for example, contractors are guaranteed payment at the 90 percent rate “regardless of the actual number of inmates at the institution at that time.”

      Any questions?

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