Probation for Sale in Alabama, Class Claims

     BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CN) – An Alabama city illegally privatized its probation system, allowing Judicial Corrections Services to hike probation fees and arrest people for not paying them, a class action claims in Federal Court.
     Lead plaintiff Gina Kay Ray, sued Judicial Corrections Services, its successor Correctional Healthcare Companies, the city of Childersburg, and its Mayor B.J. Meeks, alleging constitutional violations.
     Judicial Corrections Services runs an “offender paid system” for Childersburg, which allows it to collect fines and fees on behalf of the city, according to the complaint.
     Childersburg is a town of 5,200 about 40 miles southeast of Birmingham.
     The plaintiffs claim the city allows Judicial Corrections Services to collect probation fees based on documents that are not actual court orders, and lets the private company intimidate people by threatening to throw them in jail if they don’t pay.
     “Defendants have imposed a system whereby the clerical and quasi-judicial functions of the municipal court have been unlawfully contracted to a private business, using the color of state law for the collection of private fees and allowing public money to be collected and kept by the private business, in violation of Alabama law and of the Constitution,” the complaint states.
     “Defendants have operated the court by clothing JCS with the appearances of state authority allowing JCS employees to intimidate persons and referring to them as ‘probation officers’ though none have such authority under Alabama statutes. JCS employees are also allowed to construct documents which appear to be court orders, holding such out as having the force and effect of court orders, when they were not lawful orders of probation. Defendants have known of this fraudulent activity, but have fashioned a system of allowing JCS a free reign in collecting fines, to threaten plaintiffs’ class with incarceration, and by incarcerating persons who have not paid. Members of plaintiffs’ class have been placed on ‘probation’ by defendants in virtually all cases, especially where there is no jail sentence possible or where it would never be imposed, and this ‘probation’ is a means of coercing payment of fines, costs and the fees of JCS.
     “This public ruse is maintained by the defendants in order to impose and collect fines and costs from citizens, and is accomplished by allowing JCS to determine how much each municipal court defendant will be charged for the collection ‘services’ of JCS each month, how much of the public money paid will be kept by JCS and how much it will rebate to Childersburg. Plaintiffs aver that Childersburg has unlawfully entered into the business arrangement with JCS whereby the private entity has been given control and access over public funds and the ability to take such funds. This is in violation of state law and of the Alabama Constitution. Further, defendants have allowed JCS to increase its monthly probation fee from the $35.00 once imposed and listed on the printed probation sheets to $45.00 per month, doing so without legal authority of proper basis or authorization.”
     Ray and two named co-plaintiffs say they have been jailed several times by JCS for not being able to pay probation fees relating to traffic and misdemeanor offenses, and were held and released at the whim of JCS.
     They say the defendants did not hold probation revocation hearings and failed to consider their inability to pay.
     The city and Judicial Corrections Services “have followed a practice of maintaining persons on probation for far longer than the two-year limit imposed by Alabama law, keeping some persons on for years, adding fines, costs and the JCS fees when there is no authority for such,” the complaint states.
     They claim the defendants established “a profit-making scheme to fund the cost of the court system upon those least able to pay,” and allow no substitute for heavy fines and probation fees, such as community service, and impose fines that exceed the legal limit.
     They claim the defendants arbitrarily grant early release to some people, while denying it to others under similar circumstances, and have no logical review system.
     They seek class certification and damages for civil rights violations, false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution and violations of state laws, and want the defendants enjoined from further violations.
     They are represented by William Dawson, of Birmingham.

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