When you are convicted of a crime, sentenced and off to serve your sentence, you may be met with a jailtime alternative: probation. Probation is an alternative sentencing practice used to keep low-level or first-time offenders out of jail and working to get their life back together after their conviction. Essentially, the process relies on a convicted person's weekly check-ins with an appointed probation officer, who ensures that the convicted individual is adhering to their court agreement. These check-ins can include drug tests, and repayment of any fines assessed by the authority that served the conviction. From a distant glance, this system appears to work just fine, however, in reality, a number of factors have led to the creation of a vicious and repetitive cycle.
Along with many prisons and jails throughout the United States, the prison industrial complex has now reached the probation process. Privatized probation officers not only check in on the offenders weekly, but also collect any amounts overdue that the offender is in the process of paying. However, since the process of probation is being run a private company, the officer will also collect fees for the company itself, which the county holds defendants responsible for. Convicted individuals are responsible for any number of fees from whatever private prison management company runs the probation. These fees can include drug tests, alcohol tests, and any other miscellaneous fees the company wishes to assign. An individual in a less-than-favorable financial situation may not be able to pay these fees on a weekly basis, which may result in greater scrutiny from their probation officer. This level of scrutiny can effectively trap offenders in a ruthless cycle of jail time, probation, failure to make enough money for fees, and back to jail time.
A recent report from the Seattle Times highlights this exact case in action in a town in Tennessee. It sounds like a dystopian fantasy, but the reality of the matter is, this man, Steven Gibbs, has been trapped between probation and jail time while trying to support himself and a family. Unable to make enough money for a security deposit on an apartment, he has to live out of a motel room for the time being, while scraping together as much as he has left to pay his probation officer. He has been jailed twice for failure to pay. So what crime locked him in this seemingly eternal cycle of probation and jail time? Driving on a suspended license, years ago. This crime does not typically carry a hefty amount of jail time in any state, however, the probation cycle has effectively locked Gibbs in a precarious financial state.
What is alarming is that over 1,000 courts, including some here in Washington State make use of these private prison and probation companies that take advantage of poor and underprivileged defendants who get convicted.
The best way to avoid this cycle is to avoid a conviction. If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, don't hesitate! Contact criminal defense attorney Steve Karimi today.