To Prison for Poverty, produced by Brave New Films, exposes the unfair practices of private probation companies. It also explains the harsh reality of not paying fines and the privations of possibly going to jail. In short, I learned that probation officers do care, but the private companies and our current debt system is unfair (that rhymed).
The film focuses on Hali Wood, a 17-year-old from Columbiana, Ala., who has to pay for her past. After a court hearing, people like Hali are charged with a fee. Private probation services like the Judicial Correction Services (JCS) make profits by loaning and billing people for the money. Every month, Hali was charged $35. No matter Hali’s income or job situation, she had to pay JCS. If Hali did not pay the fee, she would be put on probation and possibly sent to jail.
Private probation companies are unfair. I find the situation peculiar because people have gone to jail for not paying fines, but probation programs can scam, even though they are supposed to help keep people out of jail.
The documentary is unique because it explains that the poorest communities are the best markets for private probation companies. The people of these communities are ultimately paying more because they are faced with the continuation of fees and incarceration.
Dale Allen, the chief public probation officer at the Athens Clarke County, in Georgia, described the concept of building the community. and how it comes at a cost. If people like Hali cannot pay, it’s in the community’s best interest to help. The best interest of the community can be determined by the oversight of judges and mandated through the courts. This is why it is important to talk to local officials, vote and use your liberty.
UPDATE: Brave New Films website said that in October 2015, JCS announced it would stop all operations in Alabama. This announcement came after the release of “To Prison for Poverty.”
By Ellen Callahan