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.
The charges were alarming: the four inmates claim low income defendants are routinely denied adequate counsel, are not advised on their constitutional rights and — most egregiously — are saddled with outrageously high fines and bond rates that the indigent have no way of paying.
On Wednesday, Shelby County Circuit Court Judge Hub Harrington handed down his decision, and tore into the defendants:
When viewed in a light most favorable to Defendants, their testimony concerning the City’s court system could reasonably be characterized as the operation of a debtors prison. The court notes that these generally fell into disfavor by the early 1800′s, though the practice appears to have remained common place in Harpersville. From a fair reading of the defendants’ testimony one night 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.