According to a 72-page report compiled by the Human Rights Watch, numerous courts in Georgia and other southern states are contracting private companies to manage people on probation. These companies are managing people who committed reportedly minor offenses, such as DUI or driving without a valid license. Further, it has been suggested that the companies are not subject to proper oversight and regulation. They collect their fees directly from probationers — who are often poverty-stricken — rather than receiving the money for their services from the government.
In most cases, when an individual is convicted of a misdemeanor, the person can pay his or her fines and avoid any kind of probation or jail sentence. However, poverty-stricken individuals may not have the money to pay such fines. When individuals convicted of a misdemeanor cannot pay their fines, courts frequently sentence them to probation with a payment plan. This is when they might get supervised by a private, for-profit probation company. They could be placed under supervision for years under a special payment plan where they gradually pay off their fine.
According to the Human Rights Watch report, most of the people sentenced to this kind of probation were found guilty of minor misdemeanor violations, like driving without insurance. However, if they are unable to pay their probation fees or fail to show up to a scheduled meeting with the probation company, they may end up in jail. This is happening in spite of a U.S. Supreme Court decision which declared that individuals on probation cannot be jailed just because they were unable to pay a fine.
Whereas most individuals have the ability to drive in their car to a meeting with their probation officer, insufficient public transportation in Georgia makes it difficult for poverty-stricken individuals to make it to their probation meeting. Also, low-income individuals can rarely afford legal representation, which is vital for those who wish to protect their legal rights under the law. Indeed, it is often due to a convicted person’s ignorance of their legal rights and lack of legal representation that results in these sad and difficult situations relating to private probation management companies. The more the public knows about this situation, the more likely it is to change so that those convicted of DUI and other minor violations do not get trapped in it.
Source: takepart.com, Good News: You Got Probation, Not Jail. Bad News: You’re Going to Jail Anyway, Solvej Schou, Feb. 9, 2014