Involuntary servitude

Abuses in privatized probation are downright criminal

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Outsourcing probation services to private companies sounds like a great idea.

Ahem. Sounds.

In theory, shifting oversight of probationers from courts to for-profit corporations would reduce government bureaucracy and save taxpayers money. And if that were the only measure of success, privatized probation services would be a smash hit.

The reality, unfortunately, is that privatization has created a perverse system in which companies operating outside the purview of the courts are shaking down folks, including some of society’s most marginalized. For what? Exorbitant “supervision” fees and extended probation terms under threat of jail time.

The business euphemistically is referred to as “pay only” or “offender-funded” probation. “State-sanctioned indentured servitude” may be more accurate.

According to a report released recently by an international human rights organization, private probation abuses are not only a problem in Georgia – as indicated by the active civil rights lawsuit against Sentinel Offender Services in Richmond County. It’s an issue in several other states as well.

The group, New York-based Human Rights Watch, issued a 72-page report, “Profiting from Probation: America’s ‘Offender-Funded’ Probation Industry.” It found that some company probation officers “behave like
abusive debt collectors” and that the companies and courts often “combine to jail offenders who fall behind on payments they cannot afford to make, in spite of clear legal protections meant to prohibit this.”

Georgia has allowed local courts to outsource oversight of misdemeanor cases since 2000. Such charges – which can include traffic violations, public drunkenness, shoplifting and disorderly conduct – rarely result in jail time, and carry fines less than $1,000.

However, probationers can end up paying double or quadruple that amount in fees to private probation firms.

The trouble starts when people unable to pay their fines in a lump sum receive probation as a way to pay the fine off in installments. The poorer people are, the longer it takes to pay and the longer they remain on probation, which results in higher fees.

The problem is compounded for offenders who fail to pay. They can have their probation revoked and a no-bond warrant issued for their arrest, long after the expiration of their original probation term.

“Often, the poorer people are, the more they ultimately pay in company fees and the more likely it is that they will wind up behind bars,” said Chris Albin-Lackey, senior researcher on business and human rights at Human Rights Watch.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled it is unconstitutional to incarcerate people who can’t afford to pay a fine or fee, yet lack of judicial oversight has enabled private probation companies to routinely obtain arrest warrants for probationers for that very reason.

Clearly, something is wrong here. The system needs a legislative overhaul and closer supervision by courts.

This page has long been in favor of privatization in appropriate circumstances. Many government services could be delivered less expensively and more effectively by the private sector.

However, the privatization of probation services, in its current form, resembles predatory lending at best and criminal extortion at worst.

The irony is that courts consider probation a lenient alternative to jail sentences. Given the practices of some probation companies, jail might be a better deal in the long run.

Comments (18) Add comment
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specsta
7565
Points
specsta 02/10/14 - 03:39 am
9
3
ACES, You Are Right On...

ACES, I am in agreement with your editorial. This rarely happens, but right is right.

Probation services in Richmond County need a complete overhaul and judges need to understand what they are subjecting poor offenders to when they put them in that system.

It is very disappointing, and probably unconstitutional, that there are State Court judges who put folks on probation for things like simple traffic offenses or sign arrest warrants for those who cannot pay their fines.

The case mentioned in the report about the local man who stole a $2 can of beer and wound up selling his own blood to pay probation fees that ballooned from $200 to over $1000 is an outright atrocity.

This nonsense has to stop.

Riverman1
99593
Points
Riverman1 02/10/14 - 04:46 am
6
5
So The County Should Run Program?

The problem is if the county tried to do it there would be ten times as many employees running the program at ten times the money. I suspect if those convicted agree to pay the fees and meet the conditions, they would stay out of trouble.

corgimom
41541
Points
corgimom 02/10/14 - 06:55 am
4
7
It doesn't matter if the man

It doesn't matter if the man stole something worth $2 or $200. You are not allowed to steal. None of this would've happened to the man if he hadn't chosen to steal.

I'm sorry, but I just don't have any sympathy for criminals. When someone chooses to commit crimes, they are responsible for all the bad things that happen as a result of that.

dsterling9
1306
Points
dsterling9 02/10/14 - 08:46 am
3
2
PROBATION

Yes, corgimom, I agree...if you do the crime you to the time (and the fine). However, let's take the case of a man with a traffic fine who had lost his job due to no fault of his own. Rather than stay in jail he opted for probation to use the time to look for work. He was unable to find work and pay the fine plus fees and was rearrested. Rather than fight he decided to just 'do the time' but when he was released he was rearrested because money was still owed to the crooks running the probation service. Yes...I agree if the government ran the process it would be another bunch sitting behind desk (or outside taking smoke breaks) doing nothing and costing the government more. That being said, there has to be a better way to manage this and judges need to enforce ALL the laws!

Bizkit
37284
Points
Bizkit 02/10/14 - 08:53 am
3
2
So all illegal immigrants

So all illegal immigrants should be gathered and jailed for breaking federal laws?

deestafford
34575
Points
deestafford 02/10/14 - 10:45 am
4
1
Usually, when there is a problem the best thing to do is....

Usually, when there is a problem the best thing to do is to look around to see how other locales handle the problem. When you find some solving the problem to your liking you emulate them. Have the local folks looked at other probation systems throughout the country for a model to emulate?

dichotomy
39369
Points
dichotomy 02/10/14 - 11:01 am
5
2
Well, I've seen it personally

Well, I've seen it personally through a friend of mine's son. The father thought he was doing the right thing by doing the "tough love" thing and not paying his way out of it. Small infraction eventually turned into big fines, a ton of Sentinel fees, and jail time because the kid could not find a job and pay Sentinel. In the long run, he would have been better off to do the month or two he would have gotten originally. It is all about money with these "for profit" probation companies. It has nothing to do with justice. We need to bring probation services back into the court system. When the taxpayers convict someone, they assume the responsibility of locking them up or supervising their probation. It should not be passed off to a money hungry private, for profit company that sucks the blood out of these people.

specsta
7565
Points
specsta 02/10/14 - 12:24 pm
6
1
@corgimom

corgimom wrote - "I'm sorry, but I just don't have any sympathy for criminals. When someone chooses to commit crimes, they are responsible for all the bad things that happen as a result of that."

Perhaps you don't understand the laws of Georgia. This is the only state that treats traffic offenses as criminal offenses. So, you're considered a criminal for having a brake light out or making an illegal lane change. There are no traffic infractions in Georgia.

Do you really think that someone who is given probation for a speeding offense is the same as someone commits armed robbery?

This is the problem. Too many people are ignorant of how corrupt the system truly is...

http://investigations.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/10/24/14653300-cash-registe...

galaxygrl
1396
Points
galaxygrl 02/10/14 - 01:38 pm
3
1
It is Wrong

This whole program as well as for profit prisons is wrong. With any business model you want to see Year over Year increases in business. This encourages less understanding if they don't have the money and incentive to put them in jail to make even more money.

Little Lamb
50775
Points
Little Lamb 02/10/14 - 02:12 pm
3
1
Debtors Prison

The Crown in the British Isles used to throw people who defaulted on debt to banks and private individuals into prison. The goal was to get some sympathetic family members to pay the debt. The trouble was that many times there were no sympathetic members to step forward. The debtors languished in jail indefinitely.

Many reformers in Britain protested against debtors prisons, to no avail. Finally, James Oglethorpe persuaded private investors to put up money to finance a colony in the Americas; and he persuaded King George to release some of the imprisoned debtors to him to board the ships and populate the new colony.

The new colony was named after the very King George who held the prisoners.

Here in Georgia, we should not allow our judicial system to imprison these people who owe money to Sentinel Probation Services.

nocnoc
54249
Points
nocnoc 02/10/14 - 05:38 pm
1
1
While I have serious problems with Hard Core Criminals

The Probation Monitoring companies deal with teens 1st offense Speeding / Laying Drag (cars, not cloths) to Hard Core Felony Criminals.

But all that aside, the issue is simple to me.
Once a person completes his/her court ordered Probation, it is OVER.
He, or She should NOT re-arrested because some lame accountant failed to process a payment, or the person missed a payment. Or lilke has come to light the Probation company demanded more $$$.00 or else.

Our country has a long history about NOT putting people into DEBTOR PRISON.

Anyone arguing they should be locked up for failing to make a payment, I hope you never miss a store or credit card payment.
Because, if this commercial use of Arrest powers stands, it sets a legal precedent, which then allows businesses to use the same tactic to collect debt.

corgimom
41541
Points
corgimom 02/10/14 - 10:14 pm
1
2
"Do you really think that

"Do you really think that someone who is given probation for a speeding offense is the same as someone commits armed robbery? "

Is a speeding offense a felony? Usually not. But then again, speeding endangers people's lives and causes accidents. Maybe it should be a criminal offense. I have a cracked hip and arthritis because a certain person, 40 years ago, decided to go 90 mph in a 25 mph zone and run a red light. My girlfriend, who was the driver of the car when we slammed into his car, also damaged her hip and is starting to have significant problems. We have lifelong injuries, caused by someone who didn't want to drive the speed limit. Is that fair to us?

However, once again- if you don't want to pay fines, if you don't want problems, don't break the law. When people speed, again, that is their choice. They have the choice not to.

As for drag racing, yep, they deserve to be prosecuted. There's no excuse for it and it endangers people's lives.

And if other people can get out of paying fines, then nobody should ever have to pay a fine. Equal protection under the law. I shouldn't have to pay a fine because I've worked hard all my life, and have saved my money, while some lowlife that wants to steal a beer shouldn't have to pay a fine because they are "poor".

You know why I don't commit crimes? Because I don't want to give my money to a court, I don't want to have to pay an attorney, I don't want to have to pay court costs. I don't want problems in my life, I don't want to be locked up in a cage.

When you choose bad behavior, you accept the consequences.

corgimom
41541
Points
corgimom 02/10/14 - 10:18 pm
1
2
"In the long run, he would

"In the long run, he would have been better off to do the month or two he would have gotten originally."

That's right, he had choices. He chose the fine, then couldn't pay it. That's not the court's fault or Sentinel's fault. If I had a fine to pay, I'd be washing people's cars, washing people's windows, house cleaning, pooper scooping, bathing animals- whatever it took to earn the money.

Although I wouldn't get in trouble in the first place, it's just not worth it. But I bet your friend's son thinks twice now, before he does wrong.

When you do wrong, you are SUPPOSED to suffer hardship. If you don't, there's no incentive not to repeat it. It's not supposed to be easy.

itsanotherday1
50164
Points
itsanotherday1 02/10/14 - 10:22 pm
2
0
No way someone should be

No way someone should be locked up/fined/ or otherwise harassed by a for profit probation company. The fees/debts owed them for service should be treated like any other consumer debt.

corgimom
41541
Points
corgimom 02/10/14 - 10:22 pm
1
2
"The father thought he was

"The father thought he was doing the right thing by doing the "tough love" thing and not paying his way out of it. Small infraction eventually turned into big fines, a ton of Sentinel fees, and jail time because the kid could not find a job and pay Sentinel."

He DID do the right thing. He held his son personally accountable for his actions. This was a very good way for his son to learn how the world works, how the justice system is nothing to play with, and if you don't pay what you owe, it causes even bigger problems. The son got a very good dose of adult life and how nobody in the outside world cares about your problems, so you'd better make good choices, because you suffer if you don't.

Maybe if more people learned that early in life, things would be different.

corgimom
41541
Points
corgimom 02/10/14 - 10:24 pm
1
2
"The fees/debts owed them for

"The fees/debts owed them for service should be treated like any other consumer debt. "

You can't discharge criminal fines through bankruptcy. If you could, there would be no point in assessing fines for anybody, especially large fines for serious offenses.

dichotomy
39369
Points
dichotomy 02/10/14 - 11:07 pm
3
0
Okay corgimom...I surrender.

Okay corgimom...I surrender. You know everything. You knew this kid, the circumstances, the insurmountable financial pressures that were put on him by the Sentinel fees, the fear of being locked up because he could not pay his rent AND come up with money for Sentinel.

So, without any attached stories I would like to say that I AM FIRMLY OPPOSED TO FOR PROFIT PROBATION COMPANIES.......JUST BECAUSE.

itsanotherday1
50164
Points
itsanotherday1 02/11/14 - 12:01 pm
1
0
You can't discharge criminal fines

I did not say that did I? I said fees to Sentinal, not fines.

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