“Private probation is unfair and places a distinct disadvantage on poor people who are unable to pay their court-imposed fines up front. To be poor in Americus City Court means you will be thrown into a hole called ‘private probation’ that is very difficult, if not impossible to crawl out of.”
~ Matt Wright, Sumter County Georgia NAACP
Tonight, community members from a small town in rural southwest Georgia will let their voices be heard to the powers that be, saying they have had enough with the privatization of the criminal justice system. A typical day in Americus court goes something like this: two people walk into court, charged with the same misdemeanor offense, say driving with a suspended license, and are fined $200. One of those folks has the money in his/her pocket, pays that day, and walks away done with the whole thing. The other person does not have an extra $200 lying around. That person is then placed on probation for say 6 months, and a private probation company tacks on monthly (sometimes weekly) “supervision fees” and all other kinds of added surcharges. That person then ends up having to pay double or triple what they would have, just because they didn’t have the money that day. Essentially, they are penalizing people for being poor, and as is often the case, it is disproportionately affecting poor people of color.
When you privatize public systems, the incentive becomes profit, not people. These private probation companies in Georgia have an incentive to get as much people on probation, and keep them on, because they make more money that way straight out the pockets of the poor. It’s the same way that private prisons encourage locking as many people up as possible.
Tonight, the people of Americus will tell their city council that they have had enough, and it’s high time for other communities experiencing similar situations to do the same.