Last week the New York Times wrote about the city of Childersburg, Alabama, and allegations that growing numbers of poor people are ending up in jail and in debt for minor infractions of the law. Now comes word that a Shelby County, Alabama Circuit Judge has taken over the Harpersville Municipal Court in order to put an end to similar abuses.
The Times article discusses how many towns are “economically strapped” and are looking to their court systems to gin up revenue. Minor traffic violations, for example, can lead to large fines and fees, and if unable to pay, individuals will find themselves on probation for extended periods of time and jail.
Yesterday, Shelby County Circuit Judge Hub Harrington temporarily enjoined the City of Harpersville from jailing any individual without prior written approval from the Court. Judge Harrington took this bold step because of “the Harpersville court’s institutional, egregious and undisputed pattern and practice of Constitutional and statutory violations, the gravity of past abuses, and the exigent circumstances faced by criminal defendants who have been placed on ‘probation’ by that court or who may come before that court in the near future”. Judge Harrington’s order describes in detail how a private probation company, Judicial Correction Services out of Georgia (the same company described in the Times article), hired by Harpersville Municipal Court, was involved in the abuses.
Judge Harrington’s order describes how the Court happened to review the evidence in the case over the 4th of July holiday. He states: “At a time when the entire country was celebrating an individuals’ “unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, which were ultimately enshrined in the Bill of Rights, this court was appalled to discover that these unalienable rights have for some time been routinely denied by the City of Harpersville”.