Making money off of prisoners and other people under the thumb of the justice system is a time-honored tradition in the South. The first iteration was the infamous convict-leasing system of the Jim Crow era, under which inmates were forced to work in deplorable conditions for the profit of private contractors. That tradition continues today with the privatization of prisons, prison healthcare, probation, and with the efforts of the state to fund the criminal justice system off the backs of poor people.
In some cases, privatization of the criminal justice system results in a cutting of services as private businesses seek a profit margin on the government contract. In the case of the HIV unit at Limestone Correction Facility in Alabama, cutting costs meant losing lives.
In other cases, privatization of the criminal justice system means giving private companies a license to make money off of poor people. In courts across Georgia and Alabama, people who are unable to pay traffic fines or fines for other misdemeanors are placed on probation under for-profit companies until they pay their fines off. The government saves itself some administrative cost, but poor people end up paying exorbitant fees, facing threats & intimidation when they are unable to pay, and enduring increased risk of reincarceration for their poverty. The privatization of misdemeanor probation has allowed for-profit companies to act essentially as collection agencies with law enforcement authority. These companies, focused on profit rather than public safety or rehabilitation, provide no case management and little to no supervision. Any underlying issues of poverty, unemployment, family instability, or lack of housing are likely to go unaddressed. Instead, poor people are threatened and intimidated into coming up with payment for their fine and supervision fees on a weekly or monthly basis, often for crimes that were poverty-related in the first place. Proposed criminal justice reforms in Georgia could increase the number of people on private probation in the state if some low-level felonies are reclassified as misdemeanors. Meanwhile, private probation companies continue to enjoy state-sanctioned secrecy for all of their records.
The ideology of business is infecting even the government run-corrections system, as more and more of the burden of funding the system is placed on those incarcerated by it, along with their families. Jails frequently charge fees for medical visits and prescriptions, as in the case of Madison County Jail. People who are incarcerated must frequently buy basic necessities, like soap and boxers, from the prison store. In Georgia, when people on felony probation have difficulty paying their fines, they may be sentenced to "Diversion Centers" where they must pay the state for room and board out of slim paychecks from minimum-wage jobs. Alternative forms of “offender-funded” correctional control such as electronic monitoring are also on the rise.
SCHR strongly opposes the privatization of the criminal justice system in all its forms. The interests of businesses do not conform to the interests of justice, and those who suffer the difference are the incarcerated, the sick, and the poor.
|Title||Publication||Date of Publication|
|SCHR Report Warns Criminal Justice Reform Council About Privatization Perils||11/12/2012|
|Southern Center for Human Rights Files Complaint Seeking Revocation of Dr. Carlo Musso’s Medical License||06/20/2011|
|Amicus Brief filed in lawsuit challenging Georgia’s “show me your papers” law||06/17/2011|
|Critics say private probation punishes poor unfairly||Augusta Chronicle||11/15/2009|
|SCHR Files Amicus Brief in Georgia Supreme Court Challenge to For-Profit Probation Companies and $50 Public Defender Fee||09/24/2009|
|Justices Probe Right to Counsel; $50 fees paid by clients of public defenders, use of private probation also explored||Fulton County Daily Report||09/23/2009|
|Justices to hear case of private probation firm||Augusta Chronicle||09/20/2009|
|SCHR Sheds Light on Corrupt Private Probation Companies with New Report||10/17/2008|
|Poverty Keeps Woman Jailed||Atlanta Joural Constitution||09/19/2006|
|Lawsuit slows AIDS death march at LCF||The News Courier||09/09/2006|
|South Georgia county to repay inmates saddled with 'jail bills'||Associated Press||04/18/2006|
|No More “Room and Board” Fees For Pre-Trial Detainees at the Clinch County Jail||SCHR Press Release||04/17/2006|
|A Company's Troubled Answer for Prisoners With H.I.V.||The New York Times||08/01/2005|
|Federal Judge recommends approval in settlement agreement on behalf of HIV-Positive Inmates for Inadequate Medical Care||The Birmingham News||06/04/2004|