A new report on for-profit probation programs that are widely operative in several states charges that they are problematic on many fronts. We summarize this growing phenomenon in today’s post for our Arkansas and other readers.

Foremost to note perhaps is that so-called “offender-funded probation” is neither a rarity nor an industry of small dimensions. A recent article authored by the global advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) states that “more than 1,000 courts in several states delegate tremendous coercive power” to companies they contract with to supervise probationers.

According to HRW, such companies take in at least $40 million annually in Georgia alone from probationers that must personally pay the costs for their own supervision.

The process works as follows. In states where for-profit probation is common (a recent HRW report makes special mention of Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi), many local municipalities and courts are attracted by the idea of contracting supervisory services out in order to save time and money.

The lure for such companies is that they can charge the probationers directly.

A pointed criticism of that stresses an unseemly and natural motivation to engage in aggressive collection tactics. The HRW report says that some companies “act more like abusive debt collectors than probation officers,” and that this is particularly troublesome because the probationers they supervise are often poor and were typically convicted on minor criminal charges.

The effect, states HRW, is that the economically challenged are targeted and too often sent back to prison for a probation violation that equates to nothing more than an inability to pay.

A researcher with HRW states that, “Perversely, some of America’s poorest counties are golden business opportunities for the industry.”

The HRW report urges more stringent judicial controls over for-profit probation companies and enhanced industry transparency concerning business tactics and how much money is being generated through fees and other penalties.

Source: Human Rights Watch, “US: For-profit probation tramples rights of poor,” Feb. 5, 2014