SPLC: Private probation company’s decision to leave Alabama is welcome news for indigent

Decision comes as cities across the state cut ties with company following SPLC action.

A private, for-profit “probation” company that collects minor fines and fees for municipal courts, often by threatening the poor with jail, is closing its doors in Alabama on Nov. 13, but still faces a racketeering lawsuit filed by the SPLC.

The company, Judicial Correction Services (JCS), sent a letter notifying municipalities that it will be leaving Alabama, according to officials in Anniston and Clayhatchee. Cities across the state have been cutting ties with JCS in increasing numbers since the SPLC filed a lawsuit in March against the company’s operations in Clanton.

“JCS’s decision to leave Alabama is welcome news,” said Sam Brooke, SPLC deputy legal director. “Indigent Alabamians will no longer endure the illegal extortion tactics that seem to be part of the company’s standard procedures.

“It was already clear from the number of cities canceling contracts with JCS that city officials across the state have realized that this company is bad for their communities.”

JCS offers municipal courts its services at no cost to them. People who can’t pay traffic tickets and other minor fines in a lump sum are placed on what is known as “pay-only probation,” and judges assign JCS to collect payments. The company profits from fees it charges – typically $40 a month – to people making payments, prolonging their ordeal and making it more difficult to pay off their debt. Company officials often threaten people with jail to secure payment, and many defendants end up behind bars.

In March, the SPLC filed a federal lawsuit accusing JCS and the city of Clanton of operating an illegal racketeering scheme to extort money from poor residents. The city later canceled its contract with the company as part of a settlement agreement with the SPLC. The claims against JCS are still pending.

The SPLC sent letters to approximately 100 cities that had contracts with JCS, urging them to cancel their contracts. Seventy-two cities have canceled their contracts with JCS, and eight cities have canceled contracts with other private probation companies. A map of municipalities that currently contract with a private probation company or have ended their contract can be viewed here.  

An earlier SPLC lawsuit against the city of Montgomery resulted in a settlement agreement in which the city agreed to stop jailing indigent people for their inability to pay fines. The city also decided to not renew its contract with JCS.