How Private Probation Companies Make Money From the Those They Trap in the Justice System

Source: Aaron Cantú, AlterNet, January 20, 2014

Governments still award services to companies with moneyed interest in jailing ever more people. … Since the 1970s, the private probation industry has expanded into at least 20 states—most concentrated in the South—and nearly all of its companies are entirely supported by the fees paid to them by the probationers they “serve.” In the last few years, many of these businesses have been given more power to pursue and imprison probationers, playing a starring role in what one federal judge called a “judicially sanctioned extortion racket.” … With privatized supervision, the offenders are required to report monthly to a contractor acting in the same capacity as a probation officer, and they must also pay a monthly fee to the company on top of the fines they owe the court. The distinction between fee and fine is important because, as noted by the Economist, it is through fees that private probation companies can afford to pay the salaries of their staff. A report from the Criminal Justice Review explained that “Private agencies…rely on the probationer’s paying a supervision fee to remain solvent.” Solvency, however, is hardly a concern for many of these corporations, some of which have amassed tens of millions of dollars annually off the fees they charge probationers. One such company is Sentinel Offender Services, whose combined operations in four different states brought in $30 million in 2009, according to an investigation by NBC. The company has faced many legal challenges on the grounds that its employees demand payment for fees from poor probationers and then issue arrest warrants when they cannot pay, without consideration for their financial situation. …. Some courts have actually been complicit in the racket. A circuit court in Alabama ruled in 2012 that the local municipal judiciary in Harpersville, Alabama had operated “debtor’s prisons” together with the private probation firm Judicial Correctional Services by turning over poor misdemeanor defendants to JCS and then allowing the company to fleece them for every cent they had. …That same year in Tennessee, a group of former probationer’s filed a successful lawsuit against the owner of a company called Providence Community Corrections for having “forced them to overpay” and holding them on probation “longer than necessary.” …