Original cosponsors: Steve Cohen, Raul Grijalva, Jerrold Nadler, Keith Ellison, James P.McGovern,Eleanor Holmes Norton, Gwen Moore, Jan Schakowsky
Please join us in stopping for-profit probation companies from preying on the poor, and help to end modern day debtors’ prison. In at least 1,000 courts across more than a dozen states, hundreds of thousands of probationers are ordered into the supervision of for-profit companies. The Supreme Court ruled in Bearden v. Georgia that a person cannot be jailed for an inability to pay a fine imposed by the court. However, for those being “serviced” by these debt collectors, that is exactly what happens. Probationers are bound to pay “supervision” fees imposed by companies while they collect the court’s fines. There are no limits on the amount or length of time for-profit companies can charge these fees.
As a result, relatively small fines resulting from traffic infractions can spiral into months or years of harassment and fees, which yield millions of dollars in probation company profits. In 2012, for-profit probation companies in Georgia collected an estimated $39.3 million in fees alone. When payments can no longer be made, these companies recommend jail.
It is an egregious distortion of the criminal justice system, and it disproportionately affects the poor and communities of color. We’re asking you to end this unconstitutional practice by joining us in cosponsoring the “End of Debtors Prison Act of 2017.”
The “End Debtors Prison Act of 2017” withholds Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants to municipalities that contract with companies that engage in “pay only” probation. These are cases where an offender’s responsibility to the court would end immediately if they had an ability to pay their fine upfront. When considering this legislation, please keep in mind:
Families of probationers have reported coercion and threats of jail time for loved ones if they did not pay fees owed to companies.
There are no transparency requirements for total of fees collected or courts contracted with.
For-profit probation companies have no incentive to determine an offender’s reasonable ability to pay off their fine.