How profitable can demanding fees from poor people be? Extremely so, if you can judge by profits enjoyed by Judicial Correction Services (JCS), a private probation company that collects $30 to $40 million a year in fees from people on probation.
Private probation has become an actual industry in the United States, with for-profit companies charging people who are on probation rather than the courts that they work for. For people living in poverty, this is a real issue.
In “To Prison for Poverty,” a short documentary, a 17-year-old girl, Hali, was written a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt. Hali did not have the money to pay for the ticket, so she was put on probation. The debt she incurred from the fees of being on probation was more than four times the amount of the ticket, and whatever money she scrounged to pay that debt was put toward the fees, not the ticket. This becomes a vicious circle where she paid down the fee, but the ticket isn’t paid, and then she incurs more fees because the ticket isn’t paid. Cases like Hali’s exist all across the country, where, if these fees are not paid, people are thrown in jail.
Probation is supposed to be a way for people who should not be in prison are not sent there, but in a system like this where people with little means are charged outrageous fees every month, probation becomes useless because they end up in prison anyway. Should people be put in prison for being unable to pay?
By Lindsey Allen