Private Probation

Making money off of prisoners and other people under the thumb of the justice system is systemic 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 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 off their fines. The government saves itself some administrative cost, but poor people end up paying exorbitant fees, facing threats and intimidation when they are unable to pay, and an 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, focus 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 the Madison County Jail. People who are incarcerated must frequently buy basic necessities, like soap and underwear, 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.