USA: Human Rights Watch report raises concerns about lack of oversight of private probation companies used by US courts, resulting in abusive & discriminatory practices

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Company response
19 February 2014

Judicial Correction Services response

Author: Judicial Correction Services

[Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Judicial Correction Services to respond to a report raising concerns about abusive & discriminatory practices by private probation companies]. We at Judicial Correction Services, Inc. believe that private probation companies play an important role in allowing the court system and the local criminal justice community to implement cost-effective alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenders at no cost to taxpayers...It is important to point out that private probation officers have no statutory authority to arrest any probationer under their supervision...Private probation companies provide well-trained, highly-regulated probation supervision. We collaborate with other professionals in the field of counseling, alcohol and drug intervention and cognitive rehabilitative therapy...private probation companies have collected substantial amounts of fines and court ordered restitution of which 100% of the collected fines and restitution are paid to the applicable court or other government body and used to fund critical government operations and provide restitution to victims of crime.

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Company response
11 February 2014

Sentinel Offender Services response

Author: Sentinel Offender Services

[Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Sentinel Offender Services to respond to a report raising concerns about abusive & discriminatory practices by private probation companies]. We have read the Human Rights Watch article “Profiting From Probation” and we believe some of the circumstances highlighted focused solely on the financial aspect of probation and failed to recognize other non financial conditions that were present. However, we believe many of the recommended changes outlined in this report would be beneficial to the industry and supported by Sentinel. Sentinel is committed to efforts that would professionalize the industry, create accountability, and focus on best practices promoting success of the offender and an overall reduction in recidivism.

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Report
4 February 2014

US: For-Profit Probation Tramples Rights of Poor

Author: Human Rights Watch

Every year, US courts sentence several hundred thousand misdemeanor offenders to probation overseen by private companies that charge their fees directly to the probationers. Often, the poorest people wind up paying the most in fees... And when they can’t pay, companies can and do secure their arrest.

The 72-page report, “Profiting from Probation: America’s ‘Offender-Funded’ Probation Industry,” describes how more than 1,000 courts in several US states delegate tremendous coercive power to companies that are often subject to little meaningful oversight or regulation...In some of these cases, probation companies act more like abusive debt collectors than probation officers, charging the debtors for their services.

“Many of the people supervised by these companies wouldn’t be on probation to begin with if they had more money,” said Chris Albin-Lackey, senior researcher...at Human Rights Watch. “Often, the poorer people are, the more they ultimately pay in company fees and the more likely it is that they will wind up behind bars.”

Companies refuse to disclose how much money they collect in fees from offenders under their supervision. Remarkably, the courts that hire them generally do not demand this information either.

[Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Judicial Correction Services and Sentinel Offender Services to respond. Reponses provided above.]

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