"Offender-funded" Justice
August 7, 2014 6:29 PM   Subscribe

"These probationers aren’t just paying a court-ordered fine; they’re typically paying an ever-growing share of the court’s administrative expenses, as well as a separate fee to the for-profit company that supervises their probation and enforces a payment schedule—a consolidated weekly or monthly set of charges divided between the court and the company. The system is known as 'offender-funded' justice. But legal challenges to it are mounting, amid concerns about abuse, corruption, and the use of state penalties to collect private profits. In a wide range of cases, offender-funded justice may not result in justice at all." Get Out of Jail, Inc.
posted by supermassive (20 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Conflict of interest much?
posted by smcameron at 6:47 PM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I read this in the magazine; it is stomach turning. This will obviously be the next big fight if we ever make any serious progress on sentencing reform in the US. There's just no end of assholes willing to profit from human misery, is there?
posted by yoink at 6:53 PM on August 7, 2014

Related previously.
posted by felixc at 6:54 PM on August 7, 2014

Mod note: Comment removed, let's skip the rape metaphors.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:59 PM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Next step: Indentured servitude.
posted by Dashy at 7:03 PM on August 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

These New Yorker cartoon captions are really getting out of hand.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:03 PM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

This cannot be allowed in a free country. Period.

[Insert Class V Profane Tirade]
posted by ob1quixote at 7:04 PM on August 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Next step: Indentured servitude.

13th amendment allows it.
posted by Talez at 7:33 PM on August 7, 2014

This cannot be allowed in a free country. Period.

Free for who? America is plenty free, for the right price.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:04 PM on August 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is one piece in the puzzle of how our criminal justice system is, as I tell people who are new to it, a hole that gets steep and deep, fast. Generally when you first stumble in, it's easy enough to extricate yourself. But if you don't do that immediately, it gets a lot more difficult and costly. What's worse is that for the people who need help most on lower economic rungs, we often don't incentivize the system to spit out those people quickly. Instead we churn them around awhile. They pay a big price for that.

Unfortunately there's a lot of political will in keeping "criminals" on a leash. Nobody gets elected promising to be soft on crime, and indeed you typically get elected by convincing voters you'll be tougher than the other guy. He supports probation? You support twice as much probation, and they have to pay for it! How's that for looking out for taxpayers. Well...it sucks, actually. Having a criminal class is not awesome, it turns out. The first and most important goal is to get people out of the system. Yes, punish; yes, rehabilitate. But ensure both are aimed toward putting the person back out into society.
posted by cribcage at 9:57 PM on August 7, 2014 [6 favorites]

Unfortunately there's a lot of political will in keeping "criminals" on a leash. Nobody gets elected promising to be soft on crime, and indeed you typically get elected by convincing voters you'll be tougher than the other guy.

I get the cynicism, and it's historically well justified, but this is really really not the case anymore. Sentencing and prison reform has gained a lot of support in the last few years, and it's surprisingly bipartisan.

We've come a long way since Willie Horton. Our prison system is still a horribly unjust mess, but I mention the progress being made because I believe the "That's just how things have always been and always will be in this country" stuff is the single greatest force working against reform.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:22 PM on August 7, 2014

Willie Horton committed his crimes here in Massachusetts. We haven't come that far. In fact, his name came up several times this past year as our local news dissected the case of Jared Remy.

I can't speak to what's true in California, though.
posted by cribcage at 10:36 PM on August 7, 2014

I see this as also related to the general increase in State fees, as a substitute for taxes. Fees for renewing driver's licenses, things like that. At all costs the politicians must not go on record in favor of taxes, but no one is raising hell about fees, after all.

But the fee for court thing is much worse because it has the coercion of jail behind it. If I got hit with $1000 in fines and court costs, it would be a setback and a bad inconvenience, but I could pay it without too much trouble. But, for the working poor, for lack of a better term, it's a destructive burden: you might as well ask them for $10,000. They do not have it. If such an individual is guilty of a serious offense, then fine, they need to deal with its consequences. But this is seemingly being done for administrative violations like car registration, or for minor traffic offenses.
posted by thelonius at 3:54 AM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

At all costs the politicians must not go on record in favor of taxes, but no one is raising hell about fees, after all.

Just more regressive taxation.
posted by notreally at 5:09 AM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is exactly what you'd expect. Exactly. The minute - the fucking minute - that there's any movement against throwing people in jail, these assholes move right on to "how can we keep making our money". It's like moving a factory the minute there's a union - it's just the powerful using their power to keep on screwing the weak, no matter what the weak do.

And it's obviously pulling more people into the system, people who basically would have had unpaid fines forever and maybe a warrant eventually. These people would make Stalin green with envy - you don't need to run an actual physical gulag, which is expensive, embarrassing and leads to rebellions - to keep people in prison. The carceral state, indeed.

You know what people ought to do? Like Occupy was doing, buying people's debt. It's a private solution and a shitty solution, but at least some of these people, we could pay off these dumb-ass $500 fines before things get into slavery.

And it's slavery, right? It's slavery like Jim Crow was slavery, like sharecropping was slavery.
posted by Frowner at 6:02 AM on August 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Or like the Detroit Water Project.
posted by Frowner at 6:03 AM on August 8, 2014

I am glad to see people focusing on the probation system more. It is really ominous part of the criminal justice system that it seems like most people do not understand the effects of. Depending on the study, year, and state vs. federal, anywhere from 40 - 70% of offenders are in prison for probation violations/re-arrests.

From what I can tell, far, far too many of those violations are for breaking the rules of halfway houses and other supervised-release institutions, many of which have incredibly draconian policies in addition to their participation in compounding debt, as addressed in the article. Among other things, I have seen probation violations and re-sentencing based on: being late to return to the house after a work assignment, possessing a lighter or ciggarettes, not maintaining employment, and not being truthful with a probation officer. While I can sortof see why those things might be violations of the rules of halfway houses, they can and often do have the really incidious consequence of landing people back in prison for a year or two on the same crime for which they already served, especially because the assignment in the halfway house in the first place is not voluntary rehab, but court-enforced infantilizing. It is rampant, and it is responsible in large part for the ballooning of the prison population.
posted by likeatoaster at 8:10 AM on August 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

There's something tangentially-related up here in Canada - the Victim Surcharge, which imposes additional fines that go to victims of crime, particularly when they can't bring a lawsuit for Reasons. By itself not a terrible idea, although there was a long history of cops injured in the line of duty "double-dipping" their work insurance/etc and the victim surcharge, but that got sorted out.

Recently, it became mandatory, rather than judge-based discretionary, and now various judges are fighting it and declaring it unconstitutional as cruel & unusual punishment.

It seems clear to me that all of these things - restitution to victims of crime, in/extra-carceral monitoring, work-release, are fundamentally best run by the State. They're large-scale, ripe for abusive and coercive behaviour1, and provide a net benefit to society as a whole. The State has the bureaucratic power to run large-scale projects, and can be trusted more than for-profit to not cut & run. The State, again structurally (in practice...they're not great) has the ability to cut down on abuse through mechanisms like access to information laws and mandated reports. They're fundamentally more transparent/accountable then a private corporation. And they provide a benefit to society, because probation/work-release generally reduce recidivism and keep people (or help them become) productive members of society. There is absolutely no shame in funding them through "real" taxation, as opposed to the hidden taxes of user fees. Fees should be for truly voluntary activities.
posted by Lemurrhea at 8:19 AM on August 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

We were talking about the definition of Neoliberalism here just the other day. This thread demonstrates how this works: while people are arguing about how seriously to take Libertarianism one thread over, there's evidence that the legal and political structures to allow corporations to take over public functions from underfunded governments are already in place, as are the corporations.
posted by sneebler at 8:57 AM on August 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

"Freedom Probation"?! Aside from the obvious contradiction, it seems that any company that calls itself "freedom" whatever is doing so to compensate for some sort of corporate skulduggery. For example.

I was glad to see my ex-wife's uncle Jack interviewed in there. He's a good guy and I hope he nails those bastards at Sentinel to the walls. Even the local wingnut commenters in the local paper think they go to far in fleecing their "customers."
posted by TedW at 10:10 AM on August 8, 2014

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