“Set up to Fail”: The Impact of Offender-Funded Private Probation on the Poor

This is the second report about private probation in the US released by Human Rights Watch (HRW); the first can be found here.

The author conducted qualitative research to assess the effect of private probation on people under parole supervision for misdemeanor offenses in Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee. In some of these states, private parole officers have the authority to control critical aspects of a person’s parole terms.

HRW makes recommendations for the federal government, state governments, courts, judges, prosecutors, and probation companies in the four states researched in this report to improve the experience of people who are currently under probation supervision.

You can read the full text of this report here.

Key Findings
  • “Kentucky is the only state researched for this report that requires supervision fees be assessed on a sliding scale based on income.”
  • Jailing people only for failure to pay fees and court costs was uncommon because the threat of incarceration often forced people to find a way to pay their fines and fees even when this meant sacrificing basic needs. “However, incarceration resulting from failure to comply with all conditions of probation due to inability to pay was more common.”
  • When a person does not fulfill their weekly or monthly probation obligations, a private probation officer can issue a violation of probation including the issuance of a court summons or an arrest warrant.
  • In Tennessee and Florida, when only partial payments are made or when a probationer is in arrears, courts let probation officers decide how payments are allocated between company fees and court costs.
  • For state governments: “Establish state-level agencies, or expand the mandate of existing institutions, that are empowered to monitor private probation companies, enforce regulations, and investigate grievances from people on probation.”
  • For courts and judges: “Ensure that individuals offered probation as part of plea deals are aware of all details related to private probation”
  • For private probation companies: “Establish clear guidelines for probation officers on interactions with clients and create systems of internal accountability for ensuring compliance with the guidelines.”

*See the full text for the complete list of recommendations advanced by Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch