Private company makes proposal for court services
Published 7:00 am Thursday, January 19, 2017
The Pearl River County Board of Supervisors heard a proposal to privatize the monitoring of residents on probation in the Pearl River County Justice Court system, at a judge’s discretion, during Wednesday’s meeting.
Bix Johnson, of Southern Court Services, LLC, spoke to the Board about the company’s work in justice and municipal courts in southern Mississippi to reduce funding and workloads in the criminal justice system.
Johnson said he plans to establish an office in Pearl River County and hire local residents to monitor probationers, administer drug tests and provide other services as ordered by a judge. People ordered to serve probation through his company would pay $50 per month, plus $30 for drug tests and $10 per day for an ankle monitor, Johnson said.
The county would pay nothing to the company, he said, instead he would collect payments from the probationers through money orders.
“It’s a business I didn’t know existed a year ago, [other] people that do this are in it for the dollars, and are not treating people with respect,” Johnson said. “Our philosophy is treating anyone that walks in our office with respect, until they lose that respect.”
Johnson said they have a contract with Culpepper Labs in Hattiesburg who analyzes drug tests taken with swabs, but his company can also perform instant urine tests.
He said swab tests allow for a more graduated indication, instead of a black and white answer to better determine a parolee’s behavior. Ankle monitors can be monitored remotely with anyone in law enforcement who is given access, Johnson said. A notice is sent to an employee’s or law enforcement’s cellphone if the probationer leaves their designated area.
If a judge deems a person indigent, or unable to pay, Johnson said he would provide the service to them at no cost, only collecting what is owed to the county. Johnson said this service could save the county money by allowing convicted offenders to serve sentences through probation, instead of in the county jail where county dollars are spent to house and feed inmates.
County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin said the Pearl River County Justice Court doesn’t typically order drug testing, and suggested the Board speak with Justice Court judges to determine if they could benefit from the service. Board Vice President Hudson Holliday said the service could be useful because people sentenced to 30 days in jail could instead be put on house arrest and continue to work.
District IV Supervisor Farron Moeller also expressed support for the program, asking about the typical procedure between a judge and the company.
Johnson said all of his business would come directly from a court order, dictating exactly what each parolee is required to do.
The company also has other programs; including initiatives to stop what Johnson called the revolving door of driver’s license issues, which is where repeat offenders drive without a license due to an inability to take the exam or don’t have insurance.
Johnson said they are also working with clients to find them jobs and training.
He also said the company deals strictly with justice and city courts, not state inmates or apprehension.
If someone violates their probation, they notify the judge who will hold a hearing or issue a warrant, Johnson said. The Board voted to move forward with the agreement and speak with county judges to determine whether the service will be used.
The Board’s next meeting will be Feb. 6 at 9 a.m. in the courthouse on Julia Street in Poplarville.