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The private probation system, and the negative effects of it

A new report about probation and its privatization points to a disturbing trend in the criminal defense world. Namely, that private probation companies are able to use the leverage of the system to ensnare those on probation in financial traps, given that the individual in question is dealing with criminal offenses and the financial penalties associated with them.

According to the report, more than 1,000 courts delegate probation duties to private companies, who then charge the people who are on probation for their services. Usually these people are put on probation because they can't pay the fines associated with their crime (which is usually minor in nature) in the first place. Then, when they can't pay, they suffer further financial penalties and can eventually be shuffled off to jail.

As if this wasn't a big enough of a problem in and of itself, these private probation companies operate in a largely unregulated field -- one where they don't even have to disclose how much they make in fees from those who are under their supervision. And the courts who bring these companies in rarely ask for those figures anyway.

In other words, this industry thrives on poorer or financially-crippled people who have been charged with relatively minor crimes. These people are then put under added financial pressure that usually can't be met by the person on probation. Thus they suffer financial penalties -- which, again, they can't pay. The spiral keeps spinning, and the person ends up in jail. It's a flawed system that shows why anyone accused of a crime needs to defend themselves vigorously and immediately.

Source: Human Rights Watch, "US: For-Profit Probation Tramples Rights of Poor," Feb. 5, 2014

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