County looks into Justice Network's role with probationers

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - The Justice Network is a probation program out of Memphis that provides a variety of probation services to Craighead County. Services that range anywhere from drug and alcohol treatment programs to educational classes.

"Instead of sending individuals to prison, then there's this outside entity that manages individuals that then go out to into the community to perform a service," explained County Judge Assistant, Tony Thomas.

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.

So now, the County Judge's office and Quorum Court members are looking into the possibility of having an "in-house" probation program.

"We're providing them with business and I don't know what percentage of that or if we get some of that back," County Judge, Ed Hill said. "There are several things on this that we're going to check into."

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.

But Tony Thomas said they'll have to look into changing more than just the Justice Network.

"Right now we're just focusing on changing one aspect of the system, and when you change one aspect, you don't get a result," Thomas said. "The rest of the system operates as it always has. So we have to look at a systematic change, not just focus on one entity as a part of that process."

The county said that from here, they'll be looking into how beneficial the Justice Network is to the county versus trying a different venue of probation services.

We'll update you on their decision once it's made.

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