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For-Profit Probation Companies Target the Poor

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Posted on Feb 13, 2014
Screenshot via Human Rights Watch

By Donald Kaufman

For-profit probation companies reap financial incentives in their assault on the poor through abusive and disproportionate punishment for minor offenses. Human Rights Watch takes a closer look:

Every year, U.S. courts sentence several hundred thousand misdemeanor offenders to probation overseen by private companies that charge their fees directly to the probationers. Often, the poorest people wind up paying the most in fees over time, in what amounts to a discriminatory penalty. And when they can’t pay, companies can and do secure their arrest.

The 72-page report, “Profiting from Probation: America’s ‘Offender-Funded’ Probation Industry,” describes how more than 1,000 courts in several U.S. states delegate tremendous coercive power to companies that are often subject to little meaningful oversight or regulation. In many cases, the only reason people are put on probation is because they need time to pay off fines and court costs linked to minor crimes. In some of these cases, probation companies act more like abusive debt collectors than probation officers, charging the debtors for their services.


One of these stories is about Thomas Barrett, who landed in jail for three months for stealing a can of beer. The for-profit firm Sentinel Offender Services decided this was apt punishment to ensure Barrett would pay his fees. He wound up more than $1,000 in debt despite the fact that he was selling his own blood plasma twice a week to pay his dues.

Below is a video describing Barrett’s ordeal and how private probation companies work:

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—Posted by Donald Kaufman


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