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Profiting from Probation: America's “Offender-Funded” Probation Industry

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The issue of “offender-funded” probation services is an under-reported and often unknown element of the criminal justice system in the United States. This report is essential reading for anyone interested in the current state of corrections. “Every year US courts sentence several hundred thousand misdemeanor offenders to probation and place them under the supervision of private, for-profit probation companies. These companies charge courts nothing for their services. Instead, they charge those they supervise a range of fees that sometimes become exorbitant-often with minimal judicial or government supervision of how they treat probationers or how much money they collect from them in fees ... [This publication] details widespread patterns of abuse and economic hardship that flow directly from the probation industry’s “offender-funded” business model. It describes how many courts let probation companies act as heavy-handed debt collectors while forcing the poorest offenders to pay steep costs for their services. Many of those affected are guilty only of minor traffic offenses and would not be on probation at all if they had the money to pay their fines immediately” (xxx).

Seven sections follow and executive summary including recommendations to state governments, courts and local governments, and probation companies: background-why privatizing probation services; overview of the private probation industry-the ‘offender-funded” business model, scale and economics of the industry, and the major players (i.e., Judicial Correction Services and Sentinel Offender Services); probation fees, financial hardship, and the poor-supervision fees, the crushing costs of other probation company fees and services, drug testing, and “moral recognition therapy” and other services; ignoring offenders’ inability to pay; “I hope you have money”-abusive collection tactics-threats of incarceration, jailing offenders to induce payment, and hidden costs to the public; where responsibility lies-companies, courts, and governments-little oversight and unfettered company discretion; and human rights norms and “offender-funded” probation.