Friday, February 14, 2014


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. 

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. 

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.

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.

Predatory Probation Privateers Prey on the Poor

CellJail(Photo: Andrew Bardwell)Last April, in a column titled Debtors Prisons, Once a 19th-Century Relic, Again Wreaking Havoc in US, I wrote: "The jailing of people unable to pay fines and court costs is no longer a relic of the 19th century American judicial system. Debtors' prisons are alive and well in one-third of the states in this country." Last week, I received a Press Release from the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union that appeared to strike a blow against this appalling phenomenon.
The release stated that "the Supreme Court of Ohio distributed a new 'bench card' to all of the state's judges, giving much needed instructions to avoid the unconstitutional practice of sending people to jail when they owe the court fines and are unable to pay. The Ohio Supreme Court's "bench card" was a definite blow to what had become the routine jailing in several states of people who were not able to pay fines imposed for a relatively minor crime committed."
Now, however, a new report by Human Rights Watch has revealed another way that poor people are being unduly financially burdened and, in many cases, imprisoned for not having enough money to pay their court-imposed fines. According to Profiting from Probation: America's 'Offender-Funded' Probation Industry, privately owned companies handling the probation of offenders are "routinely jailing probationers" for not being able to pay fees owed to those companies.
Private companies are Profiting from Probation
"Every year, US courts sentence several hundred thousand people to probation and place them under the supervision of for-profit companies for months or years at a time," Profiting from Probation points out. "They then require probationers to pay these companies for their services. Many of these offenders are only guilty of minor traffic violations like speeding or driving without proof of insurance. Others have shoplifted, been cited for public drunkenness, or committed other misdemeanor crimes. Many of these offenses carry no real threat of jail time in and of themselves, yet each month, courts issue thousands of arrest warrants for offenders who fail to make adequate payments towards fines and probation company fees."
Putting people in jail for failure to pay their private probation handlers is part of what is called the "'offender-funded' model of privatized probation that prevails in well over 1,000 courts across the US." "Offender funded" is exactly what it sounds like; "Courts in some US states charge offenders fees to help defray the costs of running a probation service."
Profiting from Probation is a 72-page report that is "based largely" on more than 75 interviews with people in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi during the second half of 2013. "It shows how some company probation officers behave like abusive debt collectors. ... explains how some courts and probation companies combine to jail offenders who fall behind on payments they cannot afford to make, in spite of clear legal protections meant to prohibit this.... [and] argues that the fee structure of offender-funded probation is inherently discriminatory against poor offenders, and imposes the greatest financial burden on those who are least able to afford to pay."
Although it may be difficult to imagine in the twenty-first century, "the business of many private probation companies is built largely on the willingness of courts to discriminate against poor offenders who can only afford to pay their fines in installments over time."
Offenders caught in a catch-22
Offenders are caught in a catch 22: If they could afford to fully pay their fines, they wouldn't be sentenced to probation, and would subsequently not be subject to the costs of paying for probation supervision by private companies. Some offenders take years paying out these fees and wind up paying significantly more than the original fine.
For stealing a can of beer from a Georgia convenience store, Thomas Barrett pled guilty and was fined $200. Over time he discovered that he owed his probation company $1000, more money than he made in a month. In Mississippi, a middle-aged woman was fined $377 for driving without a valid license, and her company probation officer threatened to jail her because she owed the company $500 in unpaid supervision fees.
The report points out that financially strapped counties and municipalities have turned to private companies to run their probation programs. "Many courts have repurposed probation into a debt collection tool and are primarily interested in the services of probation companies as a means towards that end. In what is euphemistically referred to as "pay only" probation, people are sentenced to probation for just one reason: they don't have money and they need time to pay down their fines and court costs. Pay only probation is an extremely muscular form of debt collection masquerading as probation supervision, with all costs billed to the debtor. It is essentially a legal fiction and it is the cornerstone of many probation companies' business."
A growing predatory industry
Judicial Correction Services and Sentinel Offender Services are the two companies most often cited in the report and are, according to Human Rights Watch, "arguably the most significant industry players, and ...the two firms that have been most widely implicated in alleged abuses."
The Georgia-headquartered Judicial Correction Services (JCS) is, relatively speaking, "an industry giant." In 2011, it was acquired by Correctional Healthcare Companies, a "privately held corporation that also focuses on the provision of healthcare services to prisons and bills itself as a provider of 'integrated healthcare solutions' to the criminal justice system 'including inmate healthcare, outpatient treatment, mental health, behavioral programming and treatment case management services." In 2012, the private equity group GTCR acquired CHC.
By late last year, JCS was "operat[ing] in some 480 courts ... [in] Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Mississippi. ...At any given point in time JCS employees are supervising approximately 38,000 probationers."
Sentinel Offender Services "is a privately held California corporation whose physical presence is largely based in Georgia, [and] is largely controlled by its founder Bob Contestabile and his son Mark Contestabile, who heads up the company's east coast operations." According to the report, "Sentinel claims to operate in 48 US states, mostly providing GPS monitoring and other services for government clients. The company's offender-funded probation supervision business operates exclusively in Georgia. There, the company works with 80 courts and supervises between 23,000 and 35,000 offenders at any given point in time. Sentinel boasts that it has supervised more than 500,000 probationers since 1992.
"Sentinel also provides electronic monitoring and other services to government clients in California and elsewhere. It operates a monitoring center in Irvine, California that tracks offenders on various forms of electronic monitoring for Sentinel's government clients as well as its own probation business."
Over the past few years, any civil liberties organizations have been working to make debtors prisons truly a thing of the past. It is now time to shine the spotlight on predatory probation privateers that are preying on the poor.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think the judges are getting a kickback from these people or maybe they are stock holders we the people not the politicians judges sheriffs and so on are the ones being screwed i just wounder how long we the people are going to put up with this before we have had enough. come on people you have to know the whole system is out of control. wake up and smell the roses before all our right have been taken allot of people died so you could have the freedoms we all take for granted