The Costs of Private Probation

July 18th, 2017 by Attorney Dan Carman

At the end of 2015, there were approximately 3.8 million adults on probation. This court-ordered period of correctional supervision allows offenders to stay in their communities and out of prison. With a population of more than four times that of those on parole, probation is widespread – and big business. There are many private companies competing in the probation marketplace, but the principal losers are the offenders hit with high costs, endless penalties, and fees.

Marketed as a way for states to save money, those costs are passed on to those who can afford it the least, interfering with probation’s goal of rehabilitation. A 2014 report found that more than 1,000 courts in several states have outsourced probation services to private companies that are not subject to regulation or oversight and that operate without contracts. Many misdemeanor courts sentence defendants to probation when they are unable to pay fines immediately, ultimately placing them under long-term supervision of for-profit companies who charge their fees directly to the defendants. A majority of the defendants saddled with probation payment plans are guilty of non-violent misdemeanors such as petty theft or driving with expired insurance.

Here in Kentucky, “no one in the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts knows how many such companies operate in the state, which counties they serve, how many defendants they monitor or how much they charge.” Probation monitoring varies widely from county to county. In some, probationers are scheduled for “show cause” hearings to prove that they lived up to their end of a plea deal. That kind of supervision costs them nothing. In others, supervision is conducted by state probation officers, typically resulting in charges of $10 to $25 a month. Judges in this system have the authority to lower the amount based on an offender’s ability to pay. At the top end of the scale, the private companies charge for a range of services, including auto insurance checks, community service verification, drug screenings, and monthly monitoring fees.

Adding insult to injury, many offenders on private probation who cannot pay are threatened with jail. This happens despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a person sentenced to probation cannot be sent to jail for failing to pay a fine if he or she is unable to do so. On the other side of the coin, offenders who do manage to pay the fees sometimes end up paying more than they were sentenced to pay in fines to begin with.

The burden of private probation is a heavy one, akin more to strong-arm debt collection than a rehabilitative measure. If you have been sentenced to probation, or if you have questions about how the law might apply to your situation, discuss it with one of the attorneys at the Lexington, KY-based Carman Law Firm. Everyone deserves a fair trial, and as criminal defense attorneys with years of experience, we offer thorough, experienced representation. Call today at (859) 838-1415 or fill out this online contact form to find out how we can help you.