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Reading, Looking, Listening, . . . Questioning

Modern Debtor’s Prisons: A Brief Update

Categories: Drew Whitcup, ZiR

traffic-ticket-300x199Last year, I read and posted about an article in The Nation that highlighted a growing trend: private companies commissioned to collect fines from low-level criminal offenders who were in arrears. The article highlighted one company in particular—Judicial Correction Services—that operated in a number of Southern US municipalities. As I noted last March, “[t]he results [of this outsourcing] were, for a number of poor and working-class citizens, catastrophic. JCS managed to create fee structures that profited the town and the company, but that also often resulted in unmanageable increases in what people owed. When offenders became unable to pay, a judge issued warrants for their arrests and they were jailed, sometimes for months at a time.”

Also troubling was the fact that JCS seemed to be a growing, flourishing company with a business model that was attracting capital. Fortunately, I am reading today that JCS is pulling out of Alabama following a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center:

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.’

Despite their departure from Alabama, JCS is still being sued:

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.

Perhaps the same companies that were once eager to fund the “for profit” fine collection business will now have second thoughts.

—Drew Whitcup, Zeteo Contributing Writer

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