Target: Georgia State Representative Wendell Willard, Chair of Judiciary Committee
Goal: End unjust imprisonment and debt forced on poor by for-profit probation companies
Across the United States, many people living in poverty are being extorted by for-profit probation companies. Misdemeanor offenses, such as shoplifting and traffic violations, often cannot be paid in full by the poor. When an offender cannot pay the fine and is sentenced to probation, courts will delegate probation monitoring to companies that charge the offender for the “service.”
Desperate to avoid jail time, yet unable to pay the company, the offenders will resort to desperate measures to pay. In one case, a man sold his blood plasma twice a week to get enough funds to pay. In the end, the offender ends up in jail because of his inability to pay. The threat of jail when probation is not paid in full turns the companies into abusive debt collectors who are, in practice, extorting their clients.
The probation companies have little to no oversight or regulation in most states and often ignore inquiries into how much they charge offenders. Yet, the companies’ profits are linked to the number of cases they have. While not all probation companies overcharge their offenders, all are subject to the temptation of higher profits at the cost of human lives.
In addition, many courts delegate the decision as to whether a person can pay fines or company fees to the probation officers. Because bonuses and profits are determined by fines collected by the officers, probation officers will be eager to approve someone for probation.
Georgia is one state that has created some oversight mechanisms, but further reforms are necessary. Encourage the Georgia Legislature to enact probation reforms.
Dear Rep. Wendell Willard,
Georgia’s poor are being extorted by probation companies. When they are arrested on misdemeanor charges, they are often placed into probation when they cannot afford the fees of the probation companies. Desperate to avoid jail and destitute, many will resort to desperate measures such as selling their blood plasma to cover the fees.
The problem lies in courts frequently delegating decision-making power to company probation officers on whether someone can afford company fees or not. Because the probation companies and their officers’ profits are tied to the number of individual fees charged, the officers cannot be objective when given decision making authority on whether a person is to go on probation or not. The result is desperation and fees greater than if the offender had been able to afford the initial fine.
Your state can create further oversight to prevent the extortion of the poor. I urge you to propose the following mandates to amend Georgia’s probation oversight laws: unannounced inspections of court operations of probation companies, probationer interviews within the compliance review process, full public reports of all inspections and compliance reviews. Making these reforms will be a big step towards ending probation company extortion in Georgia.
[Your Name Here]
Photo Credit: Cropped from original; Michael Rivera via Wikimedia Commons