An Alabama judge temporarily shut down a system near Birmingham where people fined for speeding and unable to afford the ticket are handed over to a private probation company and sometimes sent to jail, where additional fees are imposed, reports the New York Times. Judge Hub Harrington of Shelby County issued the order this week, saying that he was “appalled” by what he characterized as a “debtors' prison.” The judge said, “From a fair reading of the defendants' testimony, one might ascertain that a more apt description of the Harpersville Municipal Court practices is that of a judicially sanctioned extortion racket. Most distressing is that these abuses have been perpetrated by what is supposed to be a court of law. Disgraceful.”
Harrington was responding to a class-action lawsuit alleging that constitutional rights were violated by the town and the company, Judicial Correction Services, because inability to pay a fine is not a legitimate basis for jail. The Times reported on the case this month in an article about the aggressive use of fees and private companies by towns and court systems seeking income.