http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/03/us/probation-fees-multiply-as-companies-profit.html?pagewanted=all Excerpts: CHILDERSBURG, Ala. — Three years ago, Gina Ray, who is now 31 and unemployed, was fined $179 for speeding. She failed to show up at court (she says the ticket bore the wrong date), so her license was revoked. When she was next pulled over, she was, of course, driving without a license. By then her fees added up to more than $1,500. Unable to pay, she was handed over to a private probation company and jailed — charged an additional fee for each day behind bars. For that driving offense, Ms. Ray has been locked up three times for a total of 40 days and owes $3,170, much of it to the probation company. Her story, in hardscrabble, rural Alabama, where Krispy Kreme promises that “two can dine for $5.99,” is not about innocence. It is, rather, about the mushrooming of fines and fees levied by money-starved towns across the country and the for-profit businesses that administer the system. The result is that growing numbers of poor people, like Ms. Ray, are ending up jailed and in debt for minor infractions. “With so many towns economically strapped, there is growing pressure on the courts to bring in money rather than mete out justice,” said Lisa W. Borden, a partner in Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, a large law firm in Birmingham, Ala., who has spent a great deal of time on the issue. “The companies they hire are aggressive. Those arrested are not told about the right to counsel or asked whether they are indigent or offered an alternative to fines and jail. There are real constitutional issues at stake.” Here in Childersburg, where there is no public transportation, Ms. Ray has plenty of company in her plight. Richard Garrett has spent a total of 24 months in jail and owes $10,000, all for traffic and license violations that began a decade ago. “The Supreme Court has made clear that it is unconstitutional to jail people just because they can’t pay a fine,” Mr. Dawson said in an interview. “These companies are bill collectors, but they are given the authority to say to someone that if he doesn’t pay, he is going to jail,” said John B. Long, a lawyer in Augusta, Ga., who is taking the issue to a federal appeals court this fall. Stephen B. Bright, president of the Southern Center for Human Rights, who teaches at Yale Law School, said courts were increasingly using fees “for such things as the retirement funds for various court officials, law enforcement functions such as police training and crime laboratories, victim assistance programs and even the court’s computer system.” He added, “In one county in Pennsylvania, 26 different fees totaling $2,500 are assessed in addition to the fine.” UPDATE http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/14/u...?_r=1&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120714 Judge in Alabama Halts Private Probation A county judge in Alabama has temporarily shut down a system in a town 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. Judge Hub Harrington of Shelby County issued the order this week, saying that he was “appalled” by what he characterized as a “debtors’ prison.” “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,” he added. “Most distressing is that these abuses have been perpetrated by what is supposed to be a court of law. Disgraceful.” Judge Harrington ordered a preliminary injunction against the town and company, calling their officials to a hearing on Aug. 20. He also barred any further detention in local jails of those placed on probation without his written permission. He ordered that anyone convicted in Harpersville Municipal Court be given 30 days to pay the fine without further fines or fees being imposed by the probation company.