Private Probation: How a $300 Fine Becomes a $9,000 Ransom

Al Jazeera has a must-read report on the rise of for-profit probation companies — an often under-reported sector of the prison industrial complex.

Private probation services exist in a dozen states across the nation, and thousands of people are subject to their forced patronage each year. According to a report from Human Rights Watch:

Every year, US courts sentence several hundred thousand people to probation and place them under the supervision of for-profit companies for months or years at a time. They then require probationers to pay these companies for their services. Many of these offenders are only guilty of minor traffic violations like speeding or driving without proof of insurance. Others have shoplifted, been cited for public drunkenness, or committed other misdemeanor crimes. Many of these offenses carry no real threat of jail time in and of themselves, yet each month, courts issue thousands of arrest warrants for offenders who fail to make adequate payments towards fines and probation company fees.

Because lower-income people are most often the ones who cannot pay, they are the ones who bear the brunt of this injustice. It’s a new breed of the collections agencies that have locked people in poverty for generations — except this time its within the purview of law enforcement.

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