Sunday, February 9, 2014

Skip Meals or Go to Jail? How the For-Profit Probation Industry Preys on the Poor

For-Profit Probation Industry
Original Article

It's extortion, plain and simple!


By Steven Hsieh

A new Human Rights Watch report released Wednesday documents how the growing use of for-profit probation companies traps poor Americans in the criminal justice system—sometimes jailing them—for misdemeanor crimes or even minor traffic violations.

The report, titled “Profiting From Probation: America’s ‘Offender-Funded’ Probation Industry,” describes a for-profit model that incentivizes probation companies to prey on poor misdemeanor offenders, ensnaring them in debt and threatening imprisonment if financial obligations are not met. As Chris Albom-Lackey, the researcher at Human Rights Watch who authored the report, writes, “In fact, the business of many private probation companies is built largely on the willingness of courts to discriminate against poor offenders who can only afford to pay their fines in installments over time.”

In one of several cases documented in the report, Georgia resident Thomas Barrett wound up in jail after failing to pay more than a thousand dollars in accumulated probation fees. His original crime: stealing a $2 can of beer. Barrett skipped meals and sold his blood plasma to pay down his debt, but didn’t make enough to keep up with growing costs.

This video, produced by Human Rights Watch in conjunction with its report, tells the story of Thomas Barrett and other probationers trapped by the system:

Probation is supposed to be a way to keep people out of jail, a way for courts to subject people to monitoring and oversight instead of locking them up,” Albom-Lackey told NBC. “What we see in the context of private probation is the whole thing being turned on its head.”

The report says tightening budgets have prompted courts and counties to turn to private firms for probation services. Probation companies handle hundreds of thousands of offenders every year at no cost to the governments that hire them. The probationers themselves end up footing the bill, which includes “supervision fees” that become revenue for the companies in charge. This whole system disproportionately impacts poor Americans, who often cannot afford probation fees and face punishment as a result, the report says.

Here are some of the HRW’s key findings:
  • Under the “offender-funded” model, private firms levy fees on poor probationers that are are financially crushing and often times impossible to pay off. On top of exorbitant supervision fees, many offenders must pay for their own electronic monitoring (up to $360 per month) and drug tests (up to $1,250 per year).
  • Some courts sentence offenders to probation simply because they cannot afford fines and court costs, a practice called “pay only probation” that Human Rights Watch deems “a legal fiction.” In effect, poorer offenders stay on probation longer and end up paying significantly more, due to supervision fees levied by private firms.
  • Private probation officers routinely use “abusive” tactics to collect debts from offenders. These range from coercive demands (“I hope you have all my money today”) to threats of imprisonment.
  • Though the US Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to incarcerate probationers who genuinely cannot afford fines, there is little effort made to understand offenders’ financial situations. The report says many probation revocation hearings last just minutes, and few offenders are offered legal representation.
  • There is practically no transparency in the industry. Private probation companies aren’t required to disclose revenues they make from probationers and do not offer that information voluntarily.
  • While it’s impossible to get exact figures, HRW used a law unique to Georgia to estimate that private probation companies make roughly $40 million in minimum annual revenues in the state alone.

WI - Freed, but still in jail: New limits on sex offenders leave them in care of sheriff

Man behind bars
Original Article

So he's done his time but because he couldn't find a place to stay, behind bars, he will remain behind bars? That is just so wrong!


By Stephanie Jones

RACINE - _____ is supposed to be free. He’s not.

_____, a convicted sex offender, served his time and was supposed to be released from the New Lisbon Correctional Institution on Jan. 28. He was released on schedule, but his release was not to freedom. It was to the Racine County Jail. There was nowhere else for him to go.

It was a rather depressing situation,” he said about finding out the jail was his only housing option. “All I wanted was a place to live.”

Municipal ordinances have become so restrictive on where registered sex offenders like _____ can live in the county that state officials have directed the jail to hold him. It’s not clear how or when he’ll get out.

This is a new problem resulting from recent sex offender ordinances and it’s concerning, said Lt. Dan Adams of the Racine County Sheriff’s Office.

No options

In early January, _____, 59, was planning on moving into a transitional residence in the 2100 block of Racine Street in Mount Pleasant. Then those plans changed when the Mount Pleasant Village Board passed an ordinance Jan. 13 greatly restricting where sex offenders can live. That ordinance came on the heels of similar ordinances passed in Racine, Sturtevant and Caledonia.

Mount Pleasant’s new ordinance effectively eliminated the home _____ had lined up, which is near a church.

That was the last oasis,” Adams said about the Racine Street residence. “Then the ordinance passed. Now we are in this predicament.”

It’s not an issue that other released prisoners face, he said, because they have alternative shelters where they can stay that sex offenders cannot.

Staying at the Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization shelter also is not an option for sex offenders. Because families and children stay at the shelter, they don’t accept sex offenders except for particular circumstances such as if there is an 18-year-old who had a relationship with a 17-year-old, said Stephanie Koeber, HALO’s family program and child care director. She didn’t know offhand of any other place that will take sex offenders now.

It’s definitely a population that is underserved,” she said.

Past mistakes

_____ doesn’t try to justify the mistakes he made, he said. When he committed his first offense in 2000, he was living in Indiana with his wife and five children. He used to write articles for the Elkhart Truth’s sports department, he said, and he owned his own business that sold new and used equipment to fire departments.

Then he started an online relationship with a person who he thought was a 14-year-old boy, he said. He drove from Indiana to Racine County to meet the boy at the McDonald’s by Interstate 94 at 13343 Washington Ave. It turned out it was an undercover agent, and _____ was taken into custody.

Years later after he was released from prison for that crime, he ended up arrested again in 2007 after he was caught looking at a website at the Racine Public Library called “Barely Legal.” He said it turned out some of the photos were of teens under 18. He admits it was a stupid decision, although he claims he thought they were adults.

What’s next?

Now, after being released again, _____ is on extended supervision and he has a GPS monitor on his ankle, which he said he may have to wear for the rest of his life. His first goal is to find a job so that he can afford housing, he said Thursday while seated at the Department of Corrections Division of Community Corrections office in Sturtevant, with a notebook filled with possible job leads.

That is where he spends the day for the most part. _____ said his day starts with breakfast at the jail, then he gets a packed lunch and is transported to the Sturtevant corrections office, where he spends time looking for jobs until he is transported back to the jail before dinner. He is required to return to jail each night, Adams said.

Joy Staab, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, said for sex offenders who warrant special notifications to law enforcement, the current policy is to “utilize jail in lieu of homelessness.”

This is a statewide policy, she said, although she did not know if it is occurring anywhere else outside of Racine County.

As a result of local ordinances restricting where sex offenders can reside, housing options can be very limited for sex offenders,” she said.

Another man at jail

According to the Sheriff’s Office, one additional sex offender in _____’s situation also has been housed in the Racine County Jail since Tuesday. Both men are listed in jail online records with their “hold reason” as “homeless sex offender.” It’s not clear how long the offenders will have to stay in jail, Adams said. The state will pay for the jail stays, he added. “I think there is some concern about what comes next,” he said. “There has to be some alternative solution because I don’t think this can be sustainable.”

In the two weeks since _____ was released from prison, he hasn’t had any luck finding work, he said. Until he gets a job, he doesn’t know how he will be able to afford rent, he said, and with the transitional facility no longer an option, he is not sure when he will be able to finally spend a night outside jail.

If he had money in the bank, possibly he could find someplace that the ordinance would allow a sex offender to live. But he doesn’t, and he is not sure where he could find housing.

I’m not trying to look for sympathy. I don’t expect that,” he said. But he said, “I did my prison time. Give me an opportunity. Allow me to try to put my life back together.”

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