Private Probation Should Be Banned

Lots of people know about the existence of private prisons but private probation is an equally terrible idea with equally unjust results. The Economist’s Democracy in America blog takes a look at how private probation companies pile fees and penalties on those on probation and pass the cost on to taxpayers.

Even worse, people who fail to pay the fines imposed by these private companies can find warrants for their arrests sworn out and the period of their probation extended. I spoke with an attorney for a couple in Alabama who say they were threatened with Tasers and the removal of their children if they did not pay the company what they owed. In 2012 a court found that the fees levied by private-probation companies in Harpersville, Alabama, could turn a $200 fine and a year’s probation into $2,100 in fees and fines stretched over 41 months. A judge in Richmond and Columbia counties ruled such probation extensions illegal last autumn.

Not surprisingly, private-probation firms have been hit with a raft of lawsuits. Many have criticised these companies for bringing back debtors’ prisons by jailing people unable to pay privately-imposed fines, in direct violation of Bearden v Georgia, a Supreme Court case from 1983 that found that jailing someone for nonpayment of fines due to an inability to pay (rather than willful withholding of funds) violates the Equal Protection clause. The judge in the Harpersville ruling called that town’s private-probation practices “a debtors’ prison” and “a judicially sanctioned extortion racket.” The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is looking into allegations that the company illegally added fees. Later this year Georgia’s supreme court will decide whether private-probation firms can force probationers to take and pay for classes, and whether they can order arrests when fees go unpaid.

Private probation companies promised they could do as well or better than the state at supervising misdemeanants, for less cost to the taxpayer. In many cases those promises have proven hollow. The AJC tells the story of Kathleen Hucks, who was walking her dogs on Memorial Day when a policeman stopped to speak with her, and found that she owed a private-probation company $156 from her probation four-and-a-half years ago. Although her probationary period had long since ended, she was thrown in jail (at a cost taxpayers of more than $1,000) until her husband could raise the $156 Ms Hucks owed. Clifford Hayes was arrested over a years-old $847 private-probation debt, over which he was threatened with eight months in prison, also at a far greater cost to the taxpayer than what he owed. As for supervision, attorneys I spoke with for my article said that it often amounts to little more than stuffing cash into a private-probation company’s payment kiosk in a county courthouse.

So in essence, a private company is able to use the government’s exclusive ability to arrest and detain people that owe them money because they kept adding late fees and penalties to debts they knew people couldn’t pay, with taxpayers having to foot the bill for it.

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  • Chiroptera

    … (at a cost taxpayers of more than $1,000)…also at a far greater cost to the taxpayer than what he owed.

    Ah, but if there is one thing I learned from the rush to test welfare recipients for drugs they aren’t taking or to enact excessive measure to prevent non-existent voter fraud, opportunities to piss on the poor is always worth any expense.

  • royandale

    Makes a Mr. Burns kind of sense.

  • Gvlgeologist, FCD

    she was thrown in jail (at a cost taxpayers of more than $1,000) until her husband could raise the $156 Ms Hucks owed. Clifford Hayes was arrested over a years-old $847 private-probation debt, over which he was threatened with eight months in prison, also at a far greater cost to the taxpayer than what he owed

    If it weren’t for the fact that I would be, well, in jail, I’d be tempted to say to the judge, “Tell you what, give me the $156/$847 to pay the protection outfit, and I’ll save the state a lot of money.

  • kevinalexander

    Next up, a new twist on community service. A judge orders a negro convicted prisoner to 5000 hours of community service and, guess what? corporations are people and therefore part of the community. So in return for a consideration to the court (to be determined at auction) a representative of the corporation can go to the felon market, maybe get him to jump up and down and show off his teeth and then get the negro felon to work.

  • anubisprime

    It has been recently apparent in England that a few of the handful of companies that provide high level security, private prisons, tagging, and some probation services etc etc…have been filing false claims to the treasury for a few years.

    The cost in the bogus billing they claim from the treasury runs into millions of pounds of tax payer dosh.

    At one time out of 18000 tagging jobs claimed 1 in 6 are now thought to be bogus.

    Examples of their creative bookmaking are claims for non existent prisoners, tagging non-existent folk, tagging dead , tagging for jailed folk, or tagging folk abroad, over billing for services, one absolute corker was a tag team were sent to tag an offender and tagged his ‘wooden leg’ without realising it!

    But the good news is the top two miscreants…G4s and SERCO have both been referred to the Serious Fraud Office, although G4s had a temper tantrum and refused to undergo a deeper audit from the government department that issued them the contract, so going swimmingly apparently, a few days later they admitted ‘mistakes in claims’ and promised ‘lessons will be learnt’ or something like that.

    Bad news is they will get away with it because they are both Tory pets and always have been!

    Ahh… the glories of privatisation, where an honest crook can earn a bob or two by being dishonest.

  • corporal klinger

    Ahhh, the beauty of the free market and entrepreneurship.

    US of America – you really are exceptional.

    I can’t eat as much as this kind of stories make me want to vomit!

  • cry4turtles

    I imagine the majority of the probates are in the non- violent drug offense revolving door.