Wonderful news today in Alabama – private probation company Judicial Correction Services (JCS) is high-tailing it out of the State after several years of being repeatedly sued over its mistreatment of low income people who are fined in municipal courts, and frequently being on the losing end of some blistering orders. You can read about the departure here.
Baker Donelson and its co-counsel sued JCS, together with the City of Harpersville, Alabama, back in 2010. That complaint detailed how the city’s municipal court and JCS acted in concert to squeeze every nickel from low income defendants charged with traffic offenses or petty misdemeanors, threatening and often imposing jail time when they could not come up with the money to make the payments demanded. In July 2012, the Court issued an order granting preliminary injunctive relief. The Court deemed the practices alleged in our complaint, and amply proven through deposition testimony, to be tantamount to a “debtors’ prison,” and a disgraceful, “judicially sanctioned extortion racket.”
That order kicked off a frenzy of media attention to constitutionally abhorrent practices that had previously flown under the radar – not just in Harpersville, and not just in Alabama, but around the country. With the spotlight finally shining on abuses hiding in plain sight, other attorneys and civil rights groups joined the fight. Lawsuits were filed, legislation fended off, and media attention brought to bear. And that’s really what I want to say here: all of us, working together, can bring about real, systemic change.
A million thanks to the incredible people and organizations who made this happen. They include:
- Equal Justice Under Law, and its wonderful attorney on the ground, Alec Karakatsanis
- Southern Poverty Law Center, Sam Brooke, Sara Zampieren and Jacob Denney
- The Evans Law Firm, Danny Evans and Alexandria Parrish
- Bill Dawson
- Jim Pino
- Mitch McGuire
- Matt Swerdlin
- Stephen Wallace, who has since gone on to greater glory as a Circuit Court Judge
- And, last but certainly not least, Baker Donelson’s own Kevin Garrison, with a cast of many here at our firm backing him up.
Kevin, Bill, Stephen and Jim were the faces that launched a thousand ships.
A generally smart person once told me, during a meeting at the Alabama Legislature, that private probation wasn’t going away, and that it would therefore be better to have legislation passed that would “regulate” the industry. I disagreed, knowing that the industry’s effort to have itself “regulated” was really intended to lend legitimacy to its business model, and to usher it into the state court system where many thousands more victims awaited. But now JCS, by far the largest private probation company that has been operating in Alabama, is indeed going away. It shouldn’t let the screen door hit it on the way out.