“Forty dollars is hard to come by,” the family from Alabama said in the short documentary “To Prison for Poverty.” This simple line hit a nerve for me, especially as the film continued with more and more examples of private probation greed. It was alarming to learn that this is a reality- that misdemeanors – can earn $100s in fees. I keep trying to wrap my head around this concept- trying to find the logic for having a private probation company making a profit on fees. The $40 fine for not wearing a seat belt grows quickly with monthly fees of $35.
The courts may think they are saving money by handing the collections to another entity, but the cost of housing a person in jail (and payment of the police officer, court time, and such) seems far greater. Another interviewee said, “eEvery time you go to court, it is like a family reunion,” and others could name multiple people that they know who owe private probation fees. I do think the fines should have been paid, (and I can even see a small penalty for late payment), but when the fee ends up more than the ticket itself, something is wrong. To me, it appears to be a blatant abuse of power, violation of human rights and of personal freedom. There is no benefit from this system to either citizen or government, as the profit is solely corporate.
In fact, in my opinion this system seems to be detrimental to society. Not only is it making it difficult for poor people to have a savings, but their money is not being circulated back into the economy in the same way. It is going to a business that leeches off poor people, a parasite whose only interest is its own. This also adds to tension citizens feel toward the government, police and courts. Why are people going to support a system that is failing them? Why are they going to trust those who arrest them for corporate self-proclaimed fees? This type of disenfranchisement is not what our country was intended for, nor is it maintaining an ethical (or logical) standard.
By Lyndsi Petitti