In 2010, four residents of Harpersville, Alabama filed suit against several local officials and private prison company Judicial Corrections Services, alleging that they were illegally imprisoned in the Shelby County jail.
If someone convicted of a crime is not immediately able to pay an imposed fine, that person is placed on “probation,”and Judicial Corrections Service begins to collect an additional $35 fee every day the individual does not pay in full his or her fine.
If the mounting debt is not paid, Judicial Corrections Service forwards the case back to the court and the person is imprisoned for “probation violations."
According to the Shelby County Reporter:
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In the lawsuit, the former inmates claim the city regularly fails to “provide adequate or any counsel to indigent defendants,” does not advise inmates of their constitutional rights, does not hold a hearing before imposing fines and sets “unreasonable bond amounts” for indigent people arrested by the city.
On Wednesday, Shelby County Circuit Court Judge Hub Harrington tore into Judicial Corrections Services, and said their jail "could reasonably be characterized as the operation of a debtors prison... a more apt description of the Harpersville Municipal Court practices is that of a judicially sanctioned extortion racket."
Judge Harrington's ruling prohibits Judicial Corrections Services from further imprisoning probation violators and added a 30 day grace period for individuals to pay off a court-ordered penalty before Judicial Corrections Services begins to charge their $35 fee.