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February 6, 2014

"Profiting from Probation: America's 'Offender-Funded' Probation Industry"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report from Human Rights Watch. Here is the start of the report's summary:

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a person sentenced to probation cannot then be incarcerated simply for failing to pay a fine that they genuinely cannot afford. Yet many misdemeanor courts routinely jail probationers who say they cannot afford to pay what they owe — and they do so in reliance on the assurances of for-profit companies with a financial stake in every single one of those cases.

Every year, US courts sentence several hundred thousand people to probation and place them under the supervision of for-profit companies for months or years at a time.  They then require probationers to pay these companies for their services.  Many of these offenders are only guilty of minor traffic violations like speeding or driving without proof of insurance.  Others have shoplifted, been cited for public drunkenness, or committed other misdemeanor crimes.  Many of these offenses carry no real threat of jail time in and of themselves, yet each month, courts issue thousands of arrest warrants for offenders who fail to make adequate payments towards fines and probation company fees.

This report, based largely on more than 75 interviews conducted with people in the states of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi during the second half of 2013, describes patterns of abuse and financial hardship inflicted by the “offender-funded” model of privatized probation that prevails in well over 1,000 courts across the US.  It shows how some company probation officers behave like abusive debt collectors.  It explains how some courts and probation companies combine to jail offenders who fall behind on payments they cannot afford to make, in spite of clear legal protections meant to prohibit this.  It also argues that the fee structure of offender-funded probation is inherently discriminatory against poor offenders, and imposes the greatest financial burden on those who are least able to afford to pay.  In fact, the business of many private probation companies is built largely on the willingness of courts to discriminate against poor offenders who can only afford to pay their fines in installments over time.

The problems described in this report are not a consequence of probation privatization per se.  Rather, they arise because public officials allow probation companies to profit by extracting fees directly from probationers, and then fail to exercise the kind of oversight needed to protect probationers from abusive and extortionate practices.  All too often, offenders on private probation are threatened with jail for failing to pay probation fees they simply cannot afford, and some spend time behind bars.

February 6, 2014 at 05:37 PM | Permalink

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Comments

if this is true!

"The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a person sentenced to probation cannot then be incarcerated simply for failing to pay a fine that they genuinely cannot afford. Yet many misdemeanor courts routinely jail probationers who say they cannot afford to pay what they owe — and they do so in reliance on the assurances of for-profit companies with a financial stake in every single one of those cases.

Every year, US courts sentence several hundred thousand people to probation and place them under the supervision of for-profit companies for months or years at a time. They then require probationers to pay these companies for their services. Many of these offenders are only guilty of minor traffic violations like speeding or driving without proof of insurance. Others have shoplifted, been cited for public drunkenness, or committed other misdemeanor crimes. Many of these offenses carry no real threat of jail time in and of themselves, yet each month, courts issue thousands of arrest warrants for offenders who fail to make adequate payments towards fines and probation company fees."

Sounds to me like a moral and legal justification to kill every one of these judges and the corporate carpetbaggers they work for.

Posted by: rodsmith | Feb 7, 2014 12:49:29 AM

What happens when inmates who have to return to jail merely because they cannot afford to pay for offender-funded probation/parole become sufficiently embittered over this arrangement that they decide to vent their frustrations against the prison itself in the forms of work stoppages, riots, hostage-taking, murder of either other inmates or staff? Or, even more frightening, what if this system causes probationers/parolees to lash out at parole/probation officers, prosecutors, or judges? We already have a scary, disturbing amount of courtroom violence as it is. Is that what it takes to force states to get rid of offender-funded system, especially since most inmates are indigent?

Posted by: william delzell | Feb 7, 2014 9:51:50 AM

William,

For some of those possible actions they get to face much more serious charges than whatever they were originally on probation for. For other possible actions they merely face having an even less pleasant prison experience than they were already living.

Next question?

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Feb 7, 2014 10:54:42 AM

typical smart ass response there soronel!

Yes of course your right in the short term. In the long term you can't piss off millions of people and think they will never be able to get your ass.

History has proven over and over and over and over and over. You might be at the top today but sooner or later your ass will fall and be on the bottom.

At that point payback is usually a BITCH! and no offense but anyone too stupid or arrogant to learn this diserves everything they are going to get.

Posted by: rodsmith | Feb 7, 2014 1:56:39 PM

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