Wed, 9 April 2014
GA Poised To Greatly Expand Predatory Private Probation Industry
A Black Agenda Radio Commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
A bill passed by both houses of the state legislature, landed on the desk of Georgia governor Nathan Deal last weekend. Georgia House Bill 837 is reportedly the result of about $500,000 in lobbying expenses by a single company, Sentinel Offender Services, the new law greatly expands the profitability and the impact of these predatory private probation companies upon the lives of poor families in Georgia.
Back in the 1990s, Georgia farmed out all its misdemeanor probation services to private companies. So when someone gets a DUI or similar offense, or misses a traffic court date and is sentenced to pay a $500 fine plus court costs, and cannot immediately produce the money, that person's case is handed over to a private company which immediately doubles or triples the amount extracted to cover its own costs and profits and interest. Private probation outfits can get the person sent to jail for late payment or non-payment, effectively a punitive tax upon the poor. This is why Georgia now leads the nation in the combined proportion of its residents in prisons, jails and under court and correctional probation and supervision of all kinds, an astounding one in thirteen adults.
Like all privatized government functions, whether its privatized parking, privatized voting machines, or privatized education, the private probation racket needs to keep the prying eyes of the public off itself. Accordingly the new legislation creates a dark zone, specifically shielding local governments and the privatizers from revealing how much money is actually remitted to local governments, how much they keep for themselves, how many cases they handle yearly, per case worker or at any one time, or how long they keep the cases.
HB 837 legalizes the up till now illegal, but common practice of charging probationers for their own electronic monitoring and other costs related to the handling of their cases, forcing the offender and her family to pay for their continuing house arrest. That's why the model is called “offender funded services”. Late payers can be jailed of course, and time spent in jail, under the new law does NOT count toward completion of the probation. Even now, persons are being locked up because they cannot afford the cost of land lines for the electronic monitoring gear.
It's not quite 19th century debtors' prison, a situation in which any creditor could demand you serve time for the crime of not being able to pay. So far the probation companies will be the only ones with this power. But it is a long step backward.
Georgia is one of those states which claims it's reducing the numbers of folks in its prisons and jails not because mass incarceration is unjust or discriminatory, but because it costs the states and counties too much. Funneling increasing numbers into punitive house arrest situations under the supervision of privatized middlemen who extract their profit directly from those on probation is a solution state authorities think they can live with.
Whether you live in Georgia or not, it's time to call Governor Nathan Deal at 404-656-1776 and ask him whether he wants his state to continue to lead the nation in how many residents it has under correctional and court supervision. How many is too many? The present 1 in 13? Is he reaching for 1 in 12? For 1in 10? Politely suggest that he veto HB 837 and look instead for ways to curtail and shrink the predatory private probation industry instead of expanding it.
For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and serves on the state committee of the GA Green Party. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com or via this site's contact page.