Jon Fasman calls private probation an extortion racket:
It works like this: say you get a $200 speeding ticket, and you don’t have the money to pay it. You are placed on probation, and for a monthly supervisory fee you can pay the fine off in instalments over the course of your probation term. The devil, as ever, is in the details, as a great Sunday story from the Atlanta Journal Constitution makes clear. Those supervisory fees vary markedly: in Cobb County, for instance, just north of Atlanta, the government charges a $22 monthly fee. Private companies charge $39, and often add extra costs on top of that to cover drug testing, electronic monitoring and even classes they decide offenders need. Fees often rise and even multiply when probationers cannot pay—and remember, these are people, for the most part, who could not come up with a hundred bucks and change to pay the initial fee; you have to expect they’ll have some trouble paying.
Even worse, people who fail to pay the fines imposed by these private companies can find warrants for their arrests sworn out and the period of their probation extended. I spoke with an attorney for a couple in Alabama who say they were threatened with Tasers and the removal of their children if they did not pay the company what they owed. In 2012 a court found that the fees levied by private-probation companies in Harpersville, Alabama, could turn a $200 fine and a year’s probation into $2,100 in fees and fines stretched over 41 months. A judge in Richmond and Columbia counties ruled such probation extensions illegal last autumn.
Isn’t that great? It’s the free market at work, all right. It reminds me of last year’s piece in the Washington Post about the privatization of the debt collection in Washington DC[.] … You may remember this as the story of the 76-year-old man struggling with dementia who was thrown out on the street and had his house seized because of a mix-up over a $134 property tax bill.