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6 Companies That Make Their Money Ensnaring People In Our Prison System

Probation services are being contracted out to the highest bidders.

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The firm paid $75,000 in 2003 to Bobby Whitworth, chair of Georgia’s Board of Pardons and Paroles, to draft and lobby for legislation that expanded the power of probation companies by “transfer[ing] supervision of approximately 25,000 misdemeanants from the State Department of Corrections to the individual counties.” The transfer gave DMS and other probation companies more defendants to supervise, since only counties can contract out probationary services.

Whitworth was eventually jailed for receiving kickbacks, but the law he helped nurture still stands, and now a tight group of Georgian prison professionals are building up the probation business at a time of scarce funds for public services: “This [industry] is completely dominated by retired state probation people and wardens of state prisons,” Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “They created this industry for themselves.”

A new bill sitting in the Georgia legislature would grant probation firms even more power by allowing them to set probationers’ “tolling” periods, which means more freedom to suspend and resume sentences with court approval. It would also give private probation officers increased “immunity from liability.” The law stands on the shoulders of the earlier measure that sailed through the legislature thanks in part to DMS funding. 

4. Providence Community Corrections: PCC is the probation-providing subsidiary of Providence Service Corporation, whose website extols the “high-quality” of its “human social services [and] collaborative care services.”

PCC was the subject of a 2011 lawsuit by a Tennessee woman who claimed the company’s employees “harassed and intimidated” her into paying an excessive amount of fees to the company. A judge dismissed the case in 2012 for undisclosed reasons, but a PCC outfit in Georgia received some attention a year later when one of its employees was arrested on charges of embezzling probationers’ fees. According to a local judge, PCC had already raised some eyebrows for its reported low collection rate and high number of unclosed probation cases.

Other probation firms like Sentinel have come under legal scrutiny for keeping cases open beyond what was originally mandated by a judge, in order to prolong the “payment period” throughout which defendants must pay penalty fees that compound over time. 

5. GEO Group Inc.: This is the second largest prison corporation in the country, and is the purveyor of prison facilities one civil rights lawsuit called “barbaric and unconstitutional.” 

One of the company’s prisons, the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Mississippi, was the subject of a lawsuit led by the ACLU in 2011 for incubating a Hobbesian-style nightmare in which gangs composed of inmates and guards savagely beat and sexually preyed on weaker inmates.

GEO Group ceded management of the facility in 2012, but that hasn’t dampened its ambitions: the company attempted to slap its name on a football stadium owned by Florida Atlantic University for $6 million, and is moving into ancillary penal services by buying up firms that specialize in rehabilitative services for inmates as well as businesses that produce products to track-and-monitor former inmates on parole or probation.

6. Corrections Corporation of America: CCA is the alpha and omega of privatized punishment: the bull’s-eye of a Venn diagram unified by nihilistic capitalism, puritanical persecution and structural racism.

Established in 1983 and with a total revenue of $1.7 billion in 2012, CCA has done it all: lobbied for greater criminal oversight over illegal immigrants, opposed the “relaxation and leniency of enforcement efforts,” found to be fatally negligent in the care of its inmates, sued multiple times by the ACLU for sanctioning an atmosphere of vicious violence in its facilities, and made headlines for sending its employees into public schools to sweep for drugs.