Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Probation: America's New Financial Racket

File this under "News of the Duh":

Probation Fees Multiply as Companies Profit:

It is, rather, about the mushrooming of fines and fees levied by money-starved towns across the country and the for-profit businesses that administer the system. The result is that growing numbers of poor people, like Ms. Ray, are ending up jailed and in debt for minor infractions. 

“With so many towns economically strapped, there is growing pressure on the courts to bring in money rather than mete out justice,” said Lisa W. Borden, a partner in Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, a large law firm in Birmingham, Ala., who has spent a great deal of time on the issue. “The companies they hire are aggressive. Those arrested are not told about the right to counsel or asked whether they are indigent or offered an alternative to fines and jail. There are real constitutional issues at stake.” 
In other words, private probation companies are analogous to debt collectors, bounty hunters and repo men: companies which routinely skirt the law in order to enforce the law. And no state sanctions this more than the state of Georgia.
In Georgia, three dozen for-profit probation companies operate in hundreds of courts, and there have been similar lawsuits. In one, Randy Miller, 39, an Iraq war veteran who had lost his job, was jailed after failing to make child support payments of $860 a month. In another, Hills McGee, with a monthly income of $243 in veterans benefits, was charged with public drunkenness, assessed $270 by a court and put on probation through a private company. The company added a $15 enrollment fee and $39 in monthly fees. That put his total for a year above $700, which Mr. McGee, 53, struggled to meet before being jailed for failing to pay it all. 

“These companies are bill collectors, but they are given the authority to say to someone that if he doesn’t pay, he is going to jail,” said John B. Long, a lawyer in Augusta, Ga., who is taking the issue to a federal appeals court this fall. “There are things like garbage collection where private companies are O.K. No one’s liberty is affected. The closer you get to locking someone up, the closer you get to a constitutional issue.” 
Not to mention the fact that the profit motive makes their entire mission suspect (as I have noted, more than $100 million in fines and fees in Ga. alone go to private companies each year). If the goal of justice is to keep people out of jail or prison (and fundamentally out of the criminal justice system) then these companies lose money. Their goal, is in fact, the opposite: to pull more people into the system. And cash-strapped communities are now putting people on probation for traffic tickets, jaywalking, and leash law violations...damn near anything to turn a quick buck.
In a joint telephone interview, two senior officials of Judicial Correction Services, Robert H. McMichael, its chief executive, and Kevin Egan, its chief marketing officer, rejected the lawsuit’s accusations. They said that the company does try to help those in need, but that the authority to determine who is indigent rests with the court, not the company. 

“We hear a lot of ‘I can’t pay the fee,’ ” Mr. Egan said. “It is not our job to figure that out. Only the judge can make that determination.” 
Sidebar: that's completely wrong. The probation agency/company is charged with putting together a PSI on the defendant. It's their job to figure out the financial background of the probationer.
Mr. Egan said his company had doubled the number of completed sentences where it is employed to more than two-thirds, from about one-third, and that this serves the company, the towns and the defendant. “Our job is to keep people out of jail,” he said. “We have a financial interest in getting them to comply. If they don’t pay, we don’t get paid.” 

Mr. Bright, of the Southern Center for Human Rights, said that with the private companies seeking a profit, with courts in need of income and with the most vulnerable caught up in the system, “we end up balancing the budget on the backs of the poorest people in society.” 
Precisely. The entire privatization movement in criminal justice is nothing short of a massive financial racket: a way to fleece the least amongst us in order to turn a profit. And it's not just private probation, but public as well. Probation in general has become a new tax, a new ripoff by which governments survive.

As we pause to celebrate the 4th of July, ain't America grand?

UPDATE: For those of you who think much of the above is just overblown hyperbole, particularly my use of "racket" to describe private probation, think again.

Judge in Alabama Shuts Down Private Probation "Extortion Racket":
A county judge in Alabama has temporarily shut down a system in a town near Birmingham where people fined for speeding and unable to afford the ticket are handed over to a private probation company and sometimes sent to jail, where additional fees are imposed. 

Judge Hub Harrington of Shelby County issued the order this week, saying that he was “appalled” by what he characterized as a “debtors’ prison.” 

“From a fair reading of the defendants’ testimony, one might ascertain that a more apt description of the Harpersville Municipal Court practices is that of a judicially sanctioned extortion racket,” he added. “Most distressing is that these abuses have been perpetrated by what is supposed to be a court of law. Disgraceful.” 
Any other questions?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good article. No one likes these scumbag probation companies, they should get real jobs productive to the economy.