- Behind The Scenes
COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) - Some call it a for-profit scheme that preys on the poor. City officials say it takes the busy work out of the courts and improves returns for taxpayers.
Whichever the case, a New York Times article and complaints from local offenders raise questions about a court probation service used by Columbus and cities in Mississippi, Alabama and other states.
When Columbus fell hundreds of thousands of dollars behind in collecting fees and fines handed out in Municipal Court, the city began looking for ways to solve the problem.
About a year ago, it contracted with Judicial Correction Service to handle cases.
Every case that goes through Judge Nicole Clinkscales court is sent to JCS.
The company charges offenders, regardless of whether it is running a stop sign or domestic violence, a set-up fee plus $40.00 a month for handling. Any payment toward the fine is on top of that a $200 fine can end up costing the offender $100's if not $1,000's.
If they don't pay, they can go to jail. Judge Marc Amos refuses to use the service, choosing instead to use court clerks to keep up with offenders who are on payment plans. Offenders say, it's worse than dealing with a loan shark. One we talked to asked to remain anonymous but has some pointed things to say.
"I went to the judge I didn't contest it I was being honest about it and set up a payment plan option. I was escorted to the back of the court thinking that I'm going to see court clerk and then I'm escorted around the corner and there are these probation officers."
"Danielle", as we're calling her, was in the system for not having car insurance. She was getting calls every week from JCS. She says, they weren't worried about getting her a job or training or even a drug test just their 40 dollars.
"Danielle" says, "So much of that is covering your fine with the court but so much of that is going for them to collect your fines on behalf of the court."
When "Danielle" got a job and started having a little income. She realized the cycle she was caught it. "I pawned my laptop. I got down to the last $140 or $150 and I said enough is enough."
It's an experience and a system she says is unfair and only makes life for people who often already are barely making it.
"It feels like justice is a cash register is what it feels like. Yes, you're wrong, yes you have to pay but we're going to make another 10% to 25% off you too."
WCBI News contacted JCS and Judge Clinkscales. No one wanted to go on camera Thursday to talk about the system.
Some city officials defend it by saying it has helped increase collections, but others say regular clerks can do just as well.