Poor People Catch Hell: Single Mother of Two Fights to Stay Free of Debtor's Prison

This is the story of how a single mother was abused by for-profit justice and how a “probation loan” turned into an arrest warrant. In the following report, Chade reflects on the hardship imposed on her by Judicial Correction Services (JCS) and the Hoover Municipal Court. Read below the story of how the judicially sponsored profit venture padded their pockets with hundreds of dollars from a single mother of two. The following report unfolded in Valinda Chappell’s interview of Chade. Chade has asked that her identity not be disclosed but has agreed to allow us to tell her story.

Chade is a Birmingham resident who was driving home through Hoover, Alabama when she was pulled over for the violation of following too closely and driving with a suspended license. Chade has two children ages 4 and 8 years old. She is charged with the safety of these children as a single mother. Chade is unemployed. Every month, she faces expenses of living such as food, shelter and medical requirements for her children. She paid the fine for the tickets she was given and continued on with her life. Unbeknownst to Chade, the city of Hoover requires driving classes for offenses such as those she was fined for. She was pulled over again and charged with failure to appear in court for both charges. Her bond was set at $500.00 per charge. Again, she paid. And again, she was released. Like a recurring nightmare, the blue and red lights appeared in her rear-view mirror. She was again charged twice with failure to appear in court. This time, however, her bond doubled to $1,000.00 per charge.

Chade decided that she would stay in the Hoover jail until her court date. When it arrived, she was given a choice; Return to jail for the sentence of 6 months away from her children or pay the sum of $2,030.00 through a 24 month period of probation with Judicial Correction Services, the company contracted to handle probation. “Anything to stay out of jail.” She informed the judge that she did not have a job but was still ordered to make payments of $150.00 per month towards her fines and court costs and $45.00 for “probation services.” Full knowing that she did not have a job, Hoover afforded no protections to Chade as an indigent. Instead, she was strapped with $195.00 of monthly payments to Judicial Correction Services. If she were to make these payments on time every month, she would pay off her fines 14 months. The court would collect their $2,030.00 of fines and Judicial Correction Services would collect another $630.00 paid for “services.” By the completion of her 24 month probation, JCS would have collected $1,080.00 in revenue from the single mother of two.

After having trouble paying these monthly installments, Chade asked the manager of the office if she could pay less or come back next week with the money. Her request was denied. “The way it works in Hoover is, you pay or you stay” meaning that if she could not cover the monthly payments, she would be incarcerated.

As Chade sifted through her paperwork, she explained the fees. One in particular was a “digital photo/set-up fee” of $10.00. Chade’s photo was never taken and there was no set-up process that she was aware of. She repeatedly asked where her money was going but said that no one was there to talk to probationers. “It was like a counter at the McDonald’s. you paid at the window, they gave you a receipt, and you walked out the door.” Despite her efforts, she was only afforded one opportunity to see her probation officer; in court when she was entered into the program. No one at JCS asked Chade if she had a job. No one at JCS asked Chade what her monthly income was. They merely told her to make her payments or a warrant would be issued for her arrest.

At a personal level, Chade’s life has been turned upside down. She spoke in restrained tears of the trouble she has put her family through in their best efforts to keep up with her legal tab. “My parents support me and are proud of me for staying strong but they’re tired.” Chade has had experiences with the state probation office as well. She explained that unlike the profit-seeking company, the state probation officers asked questions about her personal struggles. They knew of her financial status and her responsibilities to her children. In the state program, she was given the opportunity to work her fines off through community service. These accommodations necessary in indigent cases were not offered by Judicial Correction Services.

On May 7, 2012 a warrant was issued for her arrest in Hoover. She was charged with violating her probation. She has a $1,000.00 cash only bond which origins can be traced to moving violations which she paid, in full, the sum of around $300.00. Chade is currently in the application process for a job in a local coal mine in attempt to preserve her freedom and every day, she fights to stay out of reach of the jurisdiction that intends to lock her away in a debtor’s prison. In a last cry for help, Chade filed a complaint with the Justice Department in hopes that her freedom can be protected.