New Craighead County District Judges Tommy Fowler and David Boling ran for office promising to set up a way for misdemeanor offenders to avoid the cycle of fines and incarceration that have become a national curse in some courts.
Fowler and Boling vowed to end the privatized justice system in the county. In Craighead, the Justice Network, a Memphis-based for-profit company, has handled probation in district courts for more than 20 years. Facing the loss of that business later this month, the company has sued the judges and the county for dropping their service.
The company, according to the Jonesboro Sun, was able to collect fines but also impose other charges (drug testing,
Numerous comments from residents, officials and even several local ministers paint a picture of how it profited under the guise of providing a community service.
“We’re preying on the least of those living in our community,” First Presbyterian Church Pastor Christopher Jones said. “There’s no wonder our racial tensions are going through the roof. This is a justice issue, not a Justice Network issue.”
Vicki Crego, executive director of the Women’s Crisis Center of Northeast Arkansas, told members of the Jonesboro Ministerial Alliance, “Once they get into the system, it’s impossible to get out.”
Then the judges came along with a new amnesty program and said they intended to sever ties with the Memphis company. Jonesboro Police will take over the system this month. According to the Sun, the judges don’t plan to impose public service as often, except for those unable to pay fines.
Supporters of the old arrangement say government benefited from work projects, but public service work also diverted potential fine revenue. Reporting has also indicated no-shows are rampant in the program.
County officials had increasing questions, as this KAIT report earlier this year showed.
They’ve worked with Craighead County since the early 1990’s. Until recently, the fact that there isn’t a contract between the county and the company hasn’t been an issue, as the state doesn’t require a written contract between the two. However now, the subject is being brought to the forefront after the company earned over $310,000 from probationers in Craighead County over the past 5 months alone.
“It goes to the Justice Network. It’s not fed back in part or anything into the county in any way,” Justice of the Peace, Ken Stacks explained.
… Justice of the Peace Bob Blankenship’s concern is that between the court system and the Justice Network, it’s a vicious cycle for those who face fines in the county.
“I talked to one young man and, you know, he did the crime, he got the DUI and he couldn’t pay the fines,” Blakenship said. “He owed over 4 thousand dollars…because of one DUI. He could not pay it. He could not work out the time because he had a wife and children. It’s not fair. It’s just not fair,” he said.
So an in-house program was devised and the loss of business prompted a Justice Network lawsuit last week against the judges and county officials. It claims abrogation of their property rights in “contracts” between the Justice Network and defendants to whom the judges have now granted amnesty. The company says it has had to lay off 12 workers from loss of probationers to charge fees.
From the outside, it would appear some justice