February 5, 2014

III. Probation Fees, Financial Hardship, and the Poor

Probation companies and the public officials who hire them cast offender-funded probation as a tax-free way to provide probation services. This is somewhat disingenuous. In reality, the offender-funded model simply shifts the entire financial burden of paying for probation services onto one very specific group of taxpayers: probationers themselves. As the following pages describe, for many offenders that burden can be crushingly punitive. In some cases, it is impossible for them to shoulder.

Never-ending Probation

Sitting on the porch of his modest home in Childersburg, Alabama, Elvis Mann explained that he had been struggling for more than seven years to pay off $8,928 in accumulated fines and costs he owed the town’s Municipal Court for several misdemeanor offenses. He had been on probation with Judicial Correction Services since 2006 when he was fined for two traffic violations. Elvis, 55, said his entire monthly income consists of $800 in disability benefits and about $300 in food stamps. His wife Rita had been without work since being laid off in 2012. The couple’s estimated annual income of roughly $13,200 puts them significantly below the federal poverty line. [39]

Elvis was no deadbeat. He worked diligently to pay down his debt little by little over the years. He produced JCS-issued receipts showing that in a typical month he might scrape together a payment of between $50 and $100. All told, he had paid off more than $6,500, but this still left him owing more than $2,400 to the court.

Elvis said that a few months before Human Rights Watch interviewed him, he had given up and stopped paying. He said he and Rita had been struggling to make ends meet since she lost her job and that neither JCS nor the court seemed to care that he could not afford to pay. He had stopped reporting to his JCS probation officer and had missed at least one court appearance, explaining that:

These people at JCS don’t want to hear it.… They gonna tell you, you got to come up with that money one way or another or you going to jail. They don’t want to hear why you can’t pay. I know if I go to court they are going to carry me off to jail, so I don’t go. [40]

These fears were not baseless. Several years ago, Elvis was summoned to court for falling behind on his payments and the judge told him that he would revoke his probation and send him to prison unless he came up with $500 by the end of the day. Rita spent the afternoon frantically begging and borrowing money from members of their church congregation and managed—just barely—to bring her husband home that night.

Elvis didn’t know how much he has paid in JCS fees over the years—the receipts the company gives him each month conspicuously omit that total. But Elvis’ incomplete records show that often, only half of the money he brought to the JCS office would be applied towards his debt to the court. The company put the rest towards its own monthly fees, which were also in arrears. The $40 fee the company was entitled to collect from him every month would add up to more than $3,000 during the time he had spent on probation with them if paid in full—more than enough to pay off his entire remaining debt to the court. [41]

Supervision Fees

Probation companies charge all probationers flat monthly supervision fees, and courts are contractually obligated to sentence all probationers to pay these fees.[42] Supervision fees are the financial cornerstone of the private probation business.[43] Rates, which are generally determined on a contractual basis between a court and its probation company, vary considerably from state to state. As of October 2013, company supervision fees across Georgia averaged around $35 per month and $40 across much of Alabama and Mississippi.[44] In Montana the rates reach as high as $100 per month for basic supervision.[45]

To many outside observers, a $35 monthly supervision fee might sound trivial. But as discussed below, many probationers are only on probation to begin with because they could not come up with a few hundred dollars to pay off their fines immediately at sentencing. For many offenders struggling with poverty and unemployment, supervision fees are a substantial burden.[46]

The larger issue is the way supervision fees can accumulate over time into sums that would present a real hardship even to people of greater financial means. In some cases, accumulated supervision fees can equal or surpass the fines offenders were sentenced to pay by the court. In Mississippi, court clerks showed Human Rights Watch records for offenders who had been sentenced to pay down fines in the region of $1,000 over a period of 24 months on pay only probation with JCS.[47] At $40 per month that adds up to $960 in supervision fees, almost doubling the original fine.

In Sandersville, Georgia, Human Rights Watch interviewed Van Houston, a 64-year-old Vietnam veteran on the day he was sentenced to 24 months’ probation for a driving under the influence (DUI) offense. An admitted alcoholic on the verge of entering a residential treatment facility, Houston said that his only income was a monthly $599 social security check, or about $7,200 annually. The court sentenced him to $4,500 in fines and other costs not including probation fees of $40 per month payable to a private firm called Providence Community Corrections.[48] His required monthly payments came in at $216 per month, more than a third of his meager income—with almost 20 percent of each payment going to company fees rather than to pay down his fines. Wearing a stained white shirt and a faded red tie to court on the day of his sentencing, Houston explained to Human Rights Watch that:

I’ll be 65 in October. When I was working I made $600 in just one week, but now I’m getting that one week’s pay every month. Don’t let this tie and these shoes fool you—I’ve got class but I ‘aint got money. I wish I had more money but I’m out of time for that.[49]

Houston’s probation company calculated that he would owe an estimated total of $840 in supervision fees over 24 months on probation—more than 10 percent of his entire annual income.[50]

“Pay Only” Probation

If you don’t have your money together you get on probation. Remember, probation is a privilege and not a right. If you don’t meet your probation requirements you might say, “Now what can you do about that?” Well, we can haul you back in here and revoke your probation and put you in jail and we will, straight up.
—Robert Wynne, Solicitor General, Sandersville, Georgia, July 2013, to assembled criminal defendants in State Court. The court contracts with Providence Community Corrections for probation services, July 2013.[51]

“Pay only” probation is used for offenders who would not be on probation at all if they had more money. They pose no threat to public safety and require no supervision. Many are guilty of offenses that carry no real threat of jail time such as speeding, driving without proof of insurance, noise violations and the like. At sentencing, judges who use probation this way ask offenders whether they can pay their fines and court costs immediately and in full. Those that can walk free and wash their hands of the criminal justice system. Those that can’t are put on a long-term payment plan and sentenced to probation.

Regular, timely payments are the sole substantive condition of pay only probation. Courts generally allow pay only probationers to terminate their probation early if they are able to pay all of what they owe the court ahead of schedule.

In other contexts, a sentence of probation is often the most humane, logical and cost-effective way for a court to keep an offender out of jail. Pay only probation turns this on its head. In these cases, the sole purpose of probation is to allow the courts a straightforward and efficient way to jail people who do not pay their fines. It is often most common in communities suffering from high unemployment, poverty and other forms of economic distress. Robert Wynne, Solicitor General in Sandersville, Georgia, told Human Rights Watch that:

When the economy got bad in 2008 or 2009 I could see it. I mean, I could see it. More and more people on probation. They just didn’t have any money. And this county is wealthy compared to some others.… It used to be, probation was for more serious cases or bigger fines. But with the economy, we’re seeing a lot more cases with smaller fines people can’t pay.[52]

Offender funding makes probationers pay for the “privilege” of being put on probation instead of being imprisoned because they are unable to immediately pay their entire debt to the court. From a legal standpoint, the logic underpinning this practice is fundamentally untenable. The US Supreme Court has ruled that an offender cannot be jailed simply because they lack the means to pay a fine, so there is in fact no realistic sentence to probate in these cases at all.[53] Yet each year, courts issue thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of arrest warrants for people who allegedly fail to make timely payments to a private probation company and many of those people are arrested. Some of these probationers could pay but simply choose not to. Many others genuinely cannot keep up with payments but are treated as though they have simply refused to pay.

The job of probation officers in pay only cases is not to supervise offenders. It is to collect money, and to use the credible threat of incarceration to coerce offenders into paying down their fines along with their probation fees. Pay only probation is essentially a convenient legal fiction. It allows courts to hire debt collectors who can have people put behind bars if they don’t pay. Add private probation companies to the mix and supervision fees in these pay only cases boil down to this: a discriminatory tax that many offenders are required to pay precisely because they cannot afford to pay their court-ordered fines, with all of the revenues going directly to private companies instead of public treasuries.

Supervision Fees and “Pay Only” Probation: A Tax on Poverty

In pay only probation cases, the supervision fee model is inherently discriminatory against poor offenders and should be abolished. There are three interrelated reasons why the fees are inherently discriminatory.

First, an offender who can afford to pay the total amount of their fine immediately does not have to pay supervision fees at all. Those fees are charged only to offenders who lack the present financial ability to pay their entire debt to the court.

Second, because supervision fees are set as a flat monthly rate they consume a larger proportion of an offender’s monthly payment if that offender can only afford to pay relatively small installments. An offender who can afford to make payments of $70 per month sees a $35 supervision fee consume half of each monthly payment. If the same offender could afford to pay $350 per month, the supervision fee would consume only 10 percent of each payment. The poorer probationer sees less of his payment go towards settling the court fine, and thereby stays on probation longer. A more equitable approach to supervision fees might see them capped at a percentage of the fines levied by the court, but this is not how the business works.

Third, because supervision fees have no upward limit and because probation in pay only cases generally ends once all debts to the court are settled, the fees accumulate into higher totals for offenders who need more time to pay down their fines. In essence, the poorer you are, the more you ultimately pay.

To illustrate the point, take the example of a court whose practice is to put any offender who cannot pay their fine immediately and in full on pay only probation with a private firm contracted by the court. That probation company charges supervision fees of $35 per month and the court allows for probation to terminate early on full payment of the fine. Consider the different fates of three hypothetical offenders who are each sentenced to pay a $1,200 fine by this court:

  • The first offender pays the $1,200 fine in court on the day of their hearing. She goes home that day free of any further obligations, financial or otherwise. She is not put on probation at all and owes nothing in probation fees.
  • The second offender can afford to make monthly payments of $335. She will pay off her fines and leave probation after four months, having paid $140 in supervision fees and $1,340 in total.
  • The third offender can only afford to pay $85 per month. She will leave probation after 24 months, having paid $840 in supervision fees and $2,040 in total.

The third offender pays 52 percent more than the second offender and 70 percent more than the first—precisely because she is less able to afford it. The following graph illustrates the same problem visually, using an initial fine of $2,000:

Figure: Estimated Cost of Fine Repayment by Monthly Payment Amount

At the extreme end of this spectrum, offenders would be financially better off taking out loans on even the most abusive of terms. They could use that money to pay off their fines immediately, avoid probation, and save money despite having to pay extortionate rates of interest. An offender who requires 24 months on probation to pay off a $1,200 fine, with a $35 monthly supervision fee, would be financially better off taking out a $1,200, 24-month loan with an APR of 50 percent.[54] She would also not have to face the direct threat of incarceration over missed payments, as she would while on probation.

State laws generally limit the length of time an offender can be sentenced to probation for any one offense, but offenders guilty of multiple offenses can be sentenced to consecutive terms that leave them paying supervision fees to their probation companies for many years.[55] Some courts and probation company officials argue that this is beneficial to offenders because it gives them more time to pay down accumulated fines that they might struggle to pay on a shorter time frame.[56] But it also increases the total amount of an offender’s debt over time, along with the amount of revenue flowing to probation companies.

It is important to note that many judges reject the routine use of offender-funded probation as a debt collection tool—even in courts that contract with private probation firms. For example, Judge Laverne Simpson in Greenville, Mississippi sits on the bench of a Justice Court that contracted with JCS as of June 2013. Yet she told Human Rights Watch that:

Putting people on probation is not something I would do hastily.… If it’s a really high fine—or if it’s already a hardship situation—I’m not going to put an additional hardship by putting you on probation because then you have to pay them as well as us. I wouldn’t dare do that. You can’t just say, “I need to collect this fine,” you have to look at this person’s circumstances. Just because they have incurred a fine does not mean they have no other obligations. They have utilities. They have kids. They have food they need to buy. [57]

Judge Simpson estimated that she had sentenced no more than 10 people to probation with JCS between 2010 and 2013. “At one of these judges’ conventions [a JCS representative] did say to me that they need more business from us—it was just something in passing, like in the hallway,” she recalled. “But I am not going to sentence someone to their business just because they need to make more money.”[58] Judge Simpson said that in most cases where offenders are on long-term payment plans, she sees no need for a sentence of probation—she simply has her clerks track whether those offenders are keeping up with payments and brings them back into court if they are not. [59]

Squeezing Water from a Stone

The Mississippi Delta town of Greenwood has 15,000 residents and a per capita income of just $14,000. The local Municipal and Justice Courts began working with JCS in early 2013. By August, the town’s Municipal Court had more than 1,200 offenders on probation with the company. According to court records, a large proportion of those probationers were guilty of traffic offenses. [60]

By June 2013, JCS’ supervision fees had elicited widespread discontent. Speaking to a Human Rights Watch researcher, the police officer posted outside the municipal courtroom door one summer morning grumbled, “Our judge puts everyone on probation now. Everyone. We get a lot of complaints.” [61]

During the first eight months of 2013, JCS collected an average of $21,500 per month in fines for the court. The company does not disclose what it manages to collect for itself in supervision fees, but with supervision fees set at $40 and a population of 1,200 offenders JCS would have been entitled to collect nearly $48,000 a month. Clearly, however, many offenders were unable to pay. As of August 2013, 295 JCS probationers—almost 25 percent of the company’s total caseload—had warrants out for their arrest. [62]

Wayne Self is a member of the Board of Supervisors for Leflore county, which includes Greenwood. In 2013 he launched a bid to persuade the Board to rescind JCS’ contract with the county’s Justice Court, citing the economic hardship probation fees had imposed on his constituents:

Economically they are doing pretty rough. Some are supporting a whole family on $15,000 a year. There are a lot of single parent families. Unemployment is high. You got ‘em out there looking for jobs but the jobs aren’t there. $40 a month is hard on a lot of people here. Some people might have to decide on not purchasing medication or some kind of household necessity.” [63]

He added that he was opposed to the JCS contract because “I felt like you are just making a job for these people off the backs of the poor people.” [64] Records obtained from Greenwood’s Municipal Court via an Open Records Act request show that many of the 1,200 offenders on probation had been making payments of only $5 or even $10 at a time. [65]

In a move that was not binding on the municipal court, in January 2014 the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to cancel its contract with JCS. [66] Sam Abraham, the local chancery clerk and a member of the Board of Supervisors, told Human Rights Watch that “The Board felt that they were charging more than people could afford. We had numerous complaints.” He added, “I wish we had done something sooner.” [67]

The move was largely symbolic. JCS had reportedly sold off its Mississippi operations to another firm and pulled out of the state altogether in late 2013. [68] In January 2014, the Greenwood Municipal court responded by signing a contract with a new probation company, Professional Probation Services. It remains to be seen whether anything will change.

Pretrial Supervision Fees

Some courts use probation companies to supervise criminal defendants who are awaiting trial. Companies typically charge the same supervision fees they do in probation cases and defendants are required to report to their company probation officer as a condition of their pretrial release.

This use of probation companies is troubling because it makes the freedom of people who have not been found guilty of a crime conditional on payment of non-recoverable fees to a private company. Courts do not always articulate a convincing rationale—or any rationale at all—for resorting to this practice. In Jackson, Mississippi the court of Circuit Judge Tomie Greene routinely sentences felony defendants to pretrial supervision with a local probation company that charges them supervision fees. The court generally does not offer any specific rationale for this in the individual case and does not even specify what conditions of supervision should apply. Instead, it issues conditional bond orders that simply require defendants to comply with “whatever conditions and fees” the company might choose to impose.[69]

The imposition of supervision fees in these cases can also have the practical effect of imposing financial penalties on defendants for judicial delays that are beyond their control. As Sentinel’s branch manager in Brunswick, Georgia noted in an interview, “We’ve got people on bond supervision two years and their case hasn’t moved.”[70]

The Crushing Costs of Other Probation Company Fees and Services

Outside the abusive fiction of pay only probation, supervision fees have at least some plausible justification beyond mere debt collection. At the very least, they are arguably not distinguishable from broader trends to charge the costs of the criminal justice system to the defendants and offenders who are brought before it. But some of the other fees misdemeanor offenders are required to pay in order to comply with conditions of probation can be exorbitant in comparison with supervision fees.

Many courts require probationers sentenced to GPS monitoring, drug testing and other conditions of probation to pay for the costs of those services. The fees involved are steep and many low-income probationers struggle mightily to keep up. Arrears can quickly spiral into the thousands of dollars, and offenders who fall too far behind may face revocation of their probation and time behind bars. The fact that these already punishing costs are padded to allow probation firms to operate at a profit is deeply troubling.

Electronic Monitoring and Alcohol Monitoring

Courts require some misdemeanor probationers to wear electronic monitoring devices to help enforce restrictions on their movement, or alcohol monitoring devices to help enforce restrictions on their alcohol intake. Location monitoring devices range from simple devices that track whether an offender is in their home to Global Positioning System (GPS) technology that can pinpoint an offender’s exact location at all times. Alcohol monitoring devices range from home breathalyzers to anklets that continually monitor a probationer’s blood alcohol content.[71]

None of this technology is cheap. Where the costs are passed on to low-income probationers through offender funding they can be punitive on a scale that dwarfs the other terms of their sentences. Charges typically range from $6 to $12 per day, or $180 to $360 per month, depending on the type of monitoring being used and the fee schedules of individual companies.[72] Many companies also charge an initial “startup fee,” often in the range of $50-$80, and some use technology that requires an offender to have a landline telephone installed in their home.[73]

Sentinel says that it monitors 10,000 offenders every day through electronic monitoring and GPS technologies.[74] In general, probation companies offer no transparency about the profits they earn through these services and public officials do not require them to provide any.

Thomas Barrett

By the time Thomas Barrett hit rock bottom, he had lost just about everything he had to addiction. One day in April 2012, he walked into a Georgia convenience store and was caught stealing a $2 can of beer. He pled guilty and was sentenced to a $200 fine and 12 months’ probation with Sentinel Offender Services. Richmond county State Court Judge David Watkins’ sentence also required Barrett to wear an alcohol monitoring ankle bracelet, a service administered by Sentinel. [75]

Barrett spent more than a month in jail because he could not afford to pay an $80 “startup fee” to Sentinel. [76] Eventually, he persuaded his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor to give him the money and was released.

Once free, Barrett faced a rapid accumulation of monitoring fees that he had no way of paying. He was unemployed, living in subsidized housing and subsisting largely off food stamps. He earned his entire cash income by selling his own blood plasma.

“You can donate plasma twice a week as long as you’re physically able to,” he explained. He could make up to $300 a month this way. “Basically what I did was, I’d donate as much plasma as I could and I took that money and I threw it on the leg monitor.” Still, he said, “It wasn’t enough.” [77] His monitoring fees totaled some $360 a month and he had to use some of the plasma money to pay for his own basic needs.

Barrett said that when he explained his situation to his Sentinel probation officer, “They just said I need to pay what I could and when [the arrears] got to a certain amount, then I’d have to go in front of the judge and they were just pretty matter of fact about it.” [78]

He started skipping meals—which saved money but sometimes left him too debilitated to donate plasma—and regularly went without household essentials like laundry detergent and toilet paper. In spite of all these efforts, by February 2013 Barrett owed Sentinel more than $1,000 in monitoring fees—more than five times the amount of the fine the court had sentenced him to. The company filed a petition with the court to revoke his probation. [79]

“We went back in front of the judge and well, it didn’t work out in my favor,” he said. The judge told him he could stay out of jail if he paid several hundred dollars of what he owed Sentinel right then and there. “And I’m thinking, ‘But the whole problem is, I don’t have money.’ So they locked me up. And I just said, ‘Golly.’ I just felt like they kept putting me behind the eight ball.” [80]

Thomas Barrett’s story has a Kafkaesque twist to it. The court’s decision to put him on alcohol monitoring in the first place served no discernible purpose because his probation did not include a condition that he refrain from consuming alcohol. As Augusta attorney Jack Long put it in an interview with Human Rights Watch, “He could have sat around and drank beer all day and it would have monitored that but it would not have been a violation of his probation.” [81]

Human Rights Watch documented one case in Augusta, Georgia where a court sentenced an offender to electronic monitoring through Sentinel even though it was actually impossible for him to comply. Quentone Moore is an ex-marine in Augusta who pled guilty to misdemeanor battery charges and was sentenced to probation with Sentinel. The court required him to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet that only works in conjunction with a landline telephone. But Mr. Moore was homeless at the time, and spent 52 days in jail simply because he had no residence where a landline telephone could be installed.[82]

Drug Testing

Mandatory drug tests—another service probation companies offer on an offender-funded basis—are also a source of cumulative financial hardship for many offenders. Courts order weekly drug tests as a condition of probation in some cases. Companies generally charge offenders about $25 per test.[83] An offender required to undergo weekly drug tests over a 12 month sentence of probation must pay their probation company $1,250 per year, excluding supervision fees.

There is no publicly available data that would make it possible to gauge how significant a part of overall revenues drug testing make up for probation companies, but it represents a significant income source in some localities. In Glynn county, Georgia Providence Community Corrections (PCC) runs what the company’s local staff described as a kind of informal pretrial diversion program for defendants facing felony drug charges. Defendants are required to report to Providence’s office for drug testing once a week for periods that average around 18 months and if they stay clean, charges are eventually dropped. “I go into the bathroom and watch them piss in a cup and I test it right here,” Providence’s lone Brunswick-based employee told Human Rights Watch.[84]

These cases constitute the bulk of PCC’s caseload in Glynn county. The company’s probation officer there said that “Our money really comes from drug testing fees.” He added that county prosecutors seem to lose track of some cases, especially where defendants have no attorney, and that he has seen defendants who have been reporting for mandatory drug tests for as long as five years—which would add up to a total cost of $6,000 in drug testing fees. “Sometimes I will contact the District Attorney myself,” he said, “or tell the defendant to contact the public defender. Because if you’re on for three years, that’s just ridiculous.”[85]

“Moral Reconation Therapy” and Other Services

Some probation companies offer classes that offenders can be sentenced to take as a condition of their probation. These are generally short courses taught either by company employees or outside providers that contract with probation firms. Some companies simply require offenders to purchase workbooks from them and then complete a short written test at the end of the book.[86]

Like all other probation services offered by these firms, these classes are billed to the offender. Classes in job skills and financial management might set an offender back $65 for a one-day course.[87]

Some companies offer courses that are both implausibly ambitious and quite expensive. For example, JCS offers “Moral Reconation Therapy,” described as a “cognitive behavioral program” for “treatment resistant offenders.” For $325, this 12-step program purports to empower offenders with “higher stages of moral (right v. wrong) reasoning … thereby reducing recidivism.”[88] Many courts appear to sentence offenders to take these courses purely on the basis of one paragraph course descriptions that provide little concrete information about the content of these courses or the qualifications of their instructors.

These programs are controversial, with some probationers and company critics questioning their utility.[89] They can also add significantly to the financial burden of an offender’s sentence of probation.

[39] The 2013 Federal Poverty Level (FPL) guideline for the annual income of a two-person household is $15,510. US Department of Health and Human Services, “2013 Federal Poverty Guidelines by Family Size,” 2013, http://www.dhs.ri.gov/Portals/0/Uploads/Documents/Public/General%20DHS/FPL.pdf (accessed December 5, 2013).

[40] Human Rights Watch interview with Elvis Mann, Childersburg, Alabama, October 8, 2013.

[41] Ibid; Elvis Mann’s JCS payment receipts, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[42] For example, Sentinel’s contract with Richmond county stated: “In consideration of the probation or monitoring services provided by Sentinel the Court agrees that each sentence shall provide for a probation or monitoring fee payable directly to Sentinel.” Sentinel Offender Services Contract with Richmond county Superior Court, art. 3, para. 1, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[43] These are the only fees companies collect in every case assigned to them regardless of the conditions of probation. In a 2013 deposition, Sentinel official Mark Contestabile confirmed that supervision fees represent the company’s largest single source of revenue from probation cases. Jacob Martin Glover v. Sentinel Offender Services, Inc, Superior Court of Columbia County, Georgia, No. 2012-cv-0811, Contestabile Deposition, 2013, p. 45.

[44] Human Rights Watch interview with company officials; probation company receipts and other documents on file with Human Rights Watch.

[45] “Investigation into Mountain Peaks, Inc. Brings Forth Interesting Facts,” Montana News Association, March 1, 2007, http://www.montanasnews.tv/articles.php?mode=comments&id=7109 (accessed December 4, 2013).

[46] See Ethan Bronner, “Poor Land in Jail as Companies Add Huge Fees for Probation,” New York Times, July 2, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/03/us/probation-fees-multiply-as-companies-profit.html?_r=3&pagewanted=all& (accessed December 4, 2013).

[47] Documents from Bolivar county Justice Court, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[48] In Georgia, steep DUI fines are mandated by law. Courts have little discretion to reduce them according to the circumstances of any individual case.

[49] Human Rights Watch interview with Van Houston, Sandersville, Georgia, July 22, 2013.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Human Rights Watch interview with Robert Wynne, Sandersville, Georgia, July 22, 2013.

[52] Ibid.

[53] See below, Ignoring Offenders’ Inability to Pay.

[54] In this example, the offender on probation would pay $840 in supervision fees over 24 months. The offender who took out a loan at 50 percent interest to pay the fine immediately would pay $721 in interest over the two year term of the loan.

[55] Mississippi sets the maximum at two years, and Georgia sets it at 12 months. Other states limit the term of probation in misdemeanor cases to the length of the prison term the offender could otherwise be sentenced to.

[56] Human Rights Watch interview with company probation officers, Tucker, Georgia, October 10, 2013.

[57] Human Rights Watch interview with Justice Court Judge Laverne Simpson, Greenville, Mississippi, June 19, 2013.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Docket records from Greenwood Municipal Court, on file with Human Rights Watch; Human Rights Watch interview with Felicia Bedell, Municipal Court clerk, Mississippi, June 18, 2013.

[61] Human Rights Watch interview, Greenwood, Mississippi, June 17, 2013.

[62] JCS Activity Report, January 1, 2013-August 27, 2013, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[63] Human Rights Watch interview with Wayne Self, Greenwood, Mississippi, June 17, 2013.

[64] Ibid.

[65] JCS Activity Report, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[66] “Leflore County Board of Supervisors Fires Company that Collected Fines,” AP, January 30, 2014, http://www.clarionledger.com/viewart/20140130/NEWS/301300060/Leflore-Co-Board-Supervisors-fires-company-collected-fines (accessed January 30, 2014).

[67] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Sam Abraham, Chancery Clerk, Greenwood, January 30, 2014.

[68] “Supervisors want county out of fine-collecting business,” AP, May 9, 2013, http://msbusiness.com/blog/2013/05/09/supervisors-want-county-out-of-fine-collecting-business/ (accessed December 4, 2013).

[69] Human Rights Watch observation of arraignments, Raymond Detention Facility, Raymond, Mississippi, June 21, 2013. Standard form for Conditional Bond order, on file with Human Rights Watch. Judge Green’s court did not reply to requests for comment made in writing and by phone.

[70] Human Rights Watch interview with Jimmy Pitts, Brunswick Branch Manager, Sentinel Offender Services, Brunswick, Georgia, July 24, 2013.

[71] Sentinel Offender Services, “GSA Federal Supply Schedule Price List, September 1, 2008-August 31, 2013,” 2008, https://www.gsaadvantage.gov/ref_text/GS07F0521U/0FOEUC.1TAK95_GS-07F-0521U_GSACONTRACT.PDF (accessed December 4, 2013).

[72] Court documents, on file with Human Rights Watch; Human Rights Watch interview with probation company officials, Tucker, Georgia, October 10, 2013.

[73] Ibid. Sentinel offers “passive tracking” devices that upload data to the company’s tracking center periodically using a dedicated landline installed in the offender’s home. This service offers historical, but not real time, GPS tracking of offenders’ movements and is generally used in relatively low-risk cases. Sentinel Offender Services, “Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) Tracking” undated, http://www.sentrak.com/products_and_services.gps/ (accessed January 27, 2014).

[74] Sentinel Offender Services, “GSA Federal Supply Schedule Price List September 1, 2008-August 31, 2013,”2008, https://www.gsaadvantage.gov/ref_text/GS07F0521U/0FOEUC.1TAK95_GS-07F-0521U_GSACONTRACT.PDF (accessed December 4, 2013).

[75] Court documents, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[76] Court documents, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[77] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Thomas Barrett, Augusta, Georgia, August 6, 2013

[78] Ibid.

[79] Order revoking probation with arrest clause on file with Human Rights Watch.

[80] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Thomas Barrett, Augusta, Georgia, August 6, 2013; Court documents, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[81] Court documents, on file with Human Rights Watch; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Jack Long, Augusta, Georgia, May 29, 2013.

[82] Human Rights Watch interview with Quentone Moore, Augusta, Georgia, July 25, 2013; Court documents, on file with Human Rights Watch. Mr. Moore became homeless as a direct result of his conviction, which barred him from having any contact with his former partner, with whom he had been living with before. By the time Human Rights Watch interviewed him, he had been living on the street and in homeless shelters for several months.

[83] Human Rights Watch interviews with probationers, probation company employees and public sector probation officers, Georgia, July and October 2013.

[84] A female colleague based in another PCC office comes in to administer the test to women probationers.

[85] Human Rights Watch interview with Brandon Hamilton, Providence Community Corrections probation officer, Brunswick, Georgia, July 24, 2013.

[86] Human Rights Watch interview with company probation officer [name witheld], Georgia, July 2013.

[87] JCS, “Guide to Program Services,” undated, http://judicialservices.com/what-we-provide/our-programs/ (accessed December 4, 2013).

[88] Ibid.

[89] One court official whose judge works with JCS but does not make use of the company’s mandatory course offerings summed up widespread criticism of probation company course offerings this way: “They tend to be expensive and from what I can tell they tend to be bullshit.” Human Rights Watch interview with court official [identity withheld], Birmingham, Alabama, October 2013.