Its prison friday and my homey Billy Berkowitz has a piece that I'm stealing and putting here for you.
What he will be telling you about today is how the private probation and parole system has managed to update and revitalize the old, we thought it was gone, debtors prison industry. Like the private prison industry, this one is built upon the incentive of getting as many people as possible charged and into its clutches. One really "cool" capitalist component is charging the people whose lives the system is intent on running (and ruining) to pay for the privilege...and then when they can't, well you guessed, its back to jail time.
Last September Dispatches from the Culture Wars tells us:
...a Georgia county judge ruled that Sentinel Offender Service had illegally extended the sentence of Mantooth and potentially thousands of others who were required to pay the firm monthly probation fees, and was illegally ordering electronic monitoring for misdemeanor offenders — prohibited by state law — while charging probationers for their own monitoring.
Other named plaintiffs in the pair of cases were hauled off to jail and/or subjected to electronic monitoring for alleged probation violations six years after their probation had ended for minor offenses like possession of marijuana and no proof of insurance.
Sentinel Offender Services has become notorious for using every means available to extract funds from low-level offenders, motivated by profit rather than the public interest in supervising and rehabilitating these low-level offenders. Those in Columbia or Richmond counties who cannot pay fines associated with minor offenses like speeding or public intoxication are placed on private probation, which carries monthly fees of $34 to $44. They are also charged additional “start-up” fees, photo fees, and electronic monitoring fees. When they cannot afford to keep up with these fees, they end up in jail,unfamiliar with a state law that prohibits incarceration for inability to pay.
These privatized probation to prison operations generally involve offenders who have done next to nothing at all. With privatized supervision the probationers has to report on a regular schedule and pay the company a monthly fee. The fees paid by the probationers are what pays the staff. As Alternet has reported:
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.
Want a real life story? Try on this one from the Economist:
IN LATE 2010 police in Childersburg, Alabama ticketed both Kristy and Timothy Fugatt for driving with expired license tags. They were fined $148 each, plus another $198 for Mrs Fugatt, whose license had expired. They could not afford to pay, so they were placed on probation under the supervision of Judicial Correction Services (JCS), a private company that manages probationers for roughly 200 misdemeanor courts in the south-eastern United States.
JCS also charged each of them a $45 monthly service fee. When they fell behind on their payments, they were charged more fees and threatened with jail. In February 2012 they claim that a Childersburg policeman arrested them at their home, threatened them with a Taser, told them their children would be placed in state care and took them to prison. They were released only after relatives brought $900 to the Childersburg jail. (Robert McMichael, the head of JCS, refused to comment on any of these allegations.)
What I find amazing, and yet not, of course, is how despite actual laws against some of this crap, the companies go right on operating with relative impunity. Sure a court here and there, a judge now and then makes a ruling against some particularly onerous activity of these companies. They pay a fine or something, and then get right back to business.
Before I turn this over to Bill, I want to leave you with some facts and figures about some of these companies as noted at Before it's News.
1. Sentinel Offender Services: Sentinel is the richest probation company in the country, bringing in $30 million in 2009. The company has faced a number of lawsuits alleging its employees demand onerous payments from poor probationers. The company also issues arrests warrants when probationers cannot pay, without legally mandated consideration for defendants’ financial situation. Sentinel has even extended the probationary sentences of thousands — illegally — in order to wrest more money from them.
A Georgia court recently ruled that the company would have to refund “perhaps thousands” of payments to former probationers who had the unfortunate luck to be supervised by a company that, as the ACLU reports, “links its probation officers’ performance evaluations to the amount of money collected from probationers.”
2. Judicial Correctional Services: This probationary company was founded by an Alabama circuit court to be operating “debtor’s prisons” in collusion with the local municipality of Harpersville, Alabama. In the event that a probationer couldn’t pay his court fees up front — which happens often in the fourth poorest state in the country — the court would turn the indigent person over to JCS.
People who couldn’t pay their monthly fees to the company were thrown in jail without a trial at the urging of JCS. The Harpersville court would then heap even more fines and fees on top of desperate defendants.
The circuit judge who ruled against Harpersville was so disturbed by the JCS-judiciary collusion that he accused the local court of “violating almost every safeguard afforded by the United States Constitution [and] the laws of the state of Alabama.” Despite the ruling, JCS continues to operate in 69 cities throughout four different states, and is looking to spread even further.
3. Detention Management Services: Although Sentinel officially bought out DMS some years ago, the company merits a mention for its role in expanding the probation syndicate in Georgia. Other states wanting to expand private probation will likely model their legislation on a bill that was propped up by DMS money.
The firm paid $75,000 in 2003 to Bobby Whitworth, chair of Georgia’s Board of Pardons and Paroles, to draft and lobby for legislation that expanded the power of probation companies by “transfer[ing] supervision of approximately 25,000 misdemeanants from the State Department of Corrections to the individual counties.” The transfer gave DMS and other probation companies more defendants to supervise, since only counties can contract out probationary services.
Whitworth was eventually jailed for receiving kickbacks, but the law he helped nurture still stands, and now a tight group of Georgian prison professionals are building up the probation business at a time of scarce funds for public services: “This [industry] is completely dominated by retired state probation people and wardens of state prisons,” Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “They created this industry for themselves.”
A new bill sitting in the Georgia legislature would grant probation firms even more power by allowing them to set probationers’ “tolling” periods, which means more freedom to suspend and resume sentences with court approval. It would also give private probation officers increased “immunity from liability.” The law stands on the shoulders of the earlier measure that sailed through the legislature thanks in part to DMS funding.
The entire private prison, private probation, private injustice system is one finite example of just how Capital has invaded every aspect of our lives. There is no more outside of Capital. There is only inside. The struggle against Capital (and all of its nefarious manifestations) must take place also in a social realm. No more of this nonsense that the class struggle only occurs in the factory. That thesis should have been put to rest long ago. The factory is everywhere. The class struggle is everywhere.4. Providence Community Corrections: PCC is the probation-providing subsidiary of Providence Service Corporation, whose website extols the “high-quality” of its “human social services [and] collaborative care services.”
PCC was the subject of a 2011 lawsuit by a Tennessee woman who claimed the company’s employees “harassed and intimidated” her into paying an excessive amount of fees to the company. A judge dismissed the case in 2012 for undisclosed reasons, but a PCC outfit in Georgia received some attention a year later when one of its employees was arrested on charges of embezzling probationers’ fees. According to a local judge, PCC had already raised some eyebrows for its reported low collection rate and high number of unclosed probation cases.
Other probation firms like Sentinel have come under legal scrutiny for keeping cases open beyond what was originally mandated by a judge, in order to prolong the “payment period” throughout which defendants must pay penalty fees that compound over time.
Anyway, looking for a growth industry with high returns, invest in prisons, parole and probation. It's where its at in the US of A.
The following is from Buzzflash or Truthout or both or they are the same...whatever.