Alabama Judge Bars Local Authorities from Jailing Poor People Who Are Unable to Pay FinesJuly 18, 2012

A judge in Alabama last week ordered the Harpersville Municipal Court to stop jailing people who cannot pay speeding tickets and the extra fees charged by private probation company, calling the practice "disgraceful."

Defendants in Harpersville, Alabama, charged with traffic and other minor violations who weren't able to immediately pay court-imposed fines and fees were charged several times the amount when their cases were turned over to Judicial Correction Services, a private probation company. Those too poor to pay the inflated fines and fees were locked up in the city jail.

Shelby County Judge Hub Harrington said he was "appalled" by what he characterized as a "debtors' prison" in Harpersville. The local court, he said, was running a "judicially sanctioned extortion racket."

Judge Harrington found that the court's actions repeatedly violated the constitutional rights of defendants who appeared before it. “Most distressing," he added, "is that these abuses have been perpetrated by what is supposed to be a court of law. Disgraceful."

Judge Harrington took over control of cases in Harpersville involving people jailed for failing to pay court fines and fees and ordered city and probation company officials to attend an August 20 hearing.