For-profit entities wielding government force

by Walter Olson on May 19, 2014

On “The perils of privatized probation,” Radley Balko seems convincing to me [Washington Post], quoting The Economist’s “Democracy in America“:

I’ve written about these fees before, but here’s a quick refresher: if you get hit with a $200 ticket you can’t pay, then a private-probation company will let you pay it off in instalments, for a monthly fee. Then there may be additional fees for electronic monitoring, drug testing and classes—many of which are assigned not by a judge, but by the private company itself. When probationers cannot pay, courts issue warrants for their arrest and their probation terms are extended—a reprehensible practice known as “tolling”, which a judge declared illegal last year. These are folks who had trouble paying the initial fine; you have to imagine they’ll have trouble paying additional fines. It’s plausible to posit that these firms’ business models are based on assigning unpayable fees to people who lack the sophistication, time, will or whatever to contest them. One might even say these predatory firms treat the long arm of the law as sort of lever on a juicer into which poor people are fed and squeezed to produce an endless stream of fees.

The incentives of the private companies do not, to put it mildly, appear well aligned with the interests of the public. More in our law enforcement for profit tag. Update: Sarah Stillman in the New Yorker with a damning investigative article.

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Fines, fees, probation, and the "new debtor's prison" - Overlawyered
06.06.14 at 2:15 pm

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1 Allan 05.19.14 at 10:04 am

Huzzah. A libertarian against privatization of governmental services. Some things simply should be done by the government, not private companies. These would include maintaining roads, national security (including military support and spycraft), and administering the criminal justice system.

I would like to ask Mr. Balko to take on the military industrial complex next.

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