Fine-Collection Company Stops Work in Alabama

Judicial Correction Services, the private probation company that charged Alabama’s poorest residents fees to collect municipal fines on a payment plan, announced it will no longer operate in the state. The company sent a statement to cities that continued to contract with JCS, despite a threat of lawsuits by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which led the push for cities to stop working with JCS.

The company’s statement, reprinted here, was first sent out on Friday, according to a company spokesman: “As a company, we have operated within full compliance of state law and have worked very hard to serve those municipalities who openly contracted to retain our services. We have voluntarily played a proactive role in proposing legislation that would further regulate our industry, but have been unable to reach a resolution with state leadership. We have decided that discontinuing our services in Alabama is in the best interest of our organization as well as our municipal partners who were simply looking for an alternative to incarceration when collecting out-standing probationary fines.”

The move comes after high pressure from the SPLC for cities and towns to stop doing business with a company whose practices the center likened to extortion. It told cities the contracts were illegal, sued the City of Clanton, and warned other cities that similar lawsuits could be in store if they keep doing business with JCS.

For its part, JCS charged monthly fees to people who couldn’t afford to pay municipal fines, usually for traffic violations, not having proof of car insurance, or expired tags. Those fees were usually about $40 per month, and those fees added up for those on JCS the longest, sometimes years.

At last count, according to the SPLC, about 30 Alabama cities, mostly smaller ones, were still on JCS’s roster. That was down from the 100 or so that once contracted with the company. The move came as little surprise to SPLC attorney Sara Zampierin. “There were a lot of cities that were coming to understand the nature of the services that JCS was providing and how this was never of benefit to citizens in their towns,” she said on Monday.

For cities, JCS provided much needed debt collection services (free of charge to the cities). “What we hope is that most of these cities will take on these services in house,” Zampierin said. For some cities, it’s the only option, and a few have said they will need to hire additional court staff to handle the extra demand. But there are at least four other private probation companies operating in Alabama, though on a much smaller scale than JCS. “Hopefully we won’t see those cities turn to other companies,” Zampierin said. “We’ll be monitoring that.”