Probation is a common penalty for some felonies, as well as most minor offenses and misdemeanors, including drug offenses and shoplifting. Unfortunately, a new report from Human Rights Watch reveals that private for-profit companies are creating problems within the probation system. Some defendants are becoming overwhelmed by debts and fines that are a part of their probation and are even ending up in jail because they cannot pay penalties.
Probationers who have financial struggles and who experience difficulty affording their fines are at the greatest risk of being involved with these coercive private probation companies. However, anyone could end up dealing with a private probation service, as courts are increasingly turning to these services because of budget cuts. To help protect yourself both in your initial sentencing and throughout the term of your probation, it is advisable to speak with a criminal defense lawyer in Birmingham. Barclay Law can help you to do everything possible to ensure your fines and costs are reasonable and that probation violations don't end up resulting in your incarceration.
Probation as a For-Profit Industry in Alabama
Probationers in at least 10 states, including Alabama, are being required to pay private companies high fines and probation fees or face probation violations. The probation fees can total around $30 to $40 each month. Offenders are also being asked to pay the costs of their own electronic monitoring up to $360.00 per month and to pay for drug tests that total as much as $1,250 a year.
Some of the defendants on probation have fallen months behind in these accumulated fees, and the private probation companies are seeking arrest warrants. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional to incarcerate someone for nonpayment if the defendant is genuinely unable to pay fines. But there have been documented cases where probationers have ended up going to jail as a result of failure to pay.
Civil lawsuits have been filed based on the probation companies violating the laws prohibiting incarceration for a failure to pay fines, but the pending suits don't help probationers who have already been sent to jail because of the actions of these for-profit probation companies. Many of the hearings on the revocation of probation last just minutes and few offenders who go to these hearings are offered legal representation. That means people are being jailed just on the word of a private company with little ability to defend themselves.
The problem is compounded by the fact that there is little oversight of the private companies that handle probationers. Although governments hire the private companies to oversee probation for hundreds of thousands of offenders each year, the companies are not paid by the government. Instead, they are paid by the probationers, and the companies do not have to disclose their revenues. In just one state, the companies may make as much as $40 million annually.
Protecting yourself from exorbitant probation fees and fines is very important to avoid becoming caught up with one of these companies. It is always advisable to be represented by a legal professional, whether you plea bargain for probation or take your case to trial. That way, you can understand what will be expected of you and you can maximize your chances for a reasonable and fair outcome in your case.
Contact Barclay Law at 866-584-1023 or visit https://www.jmbarclaylaw.com to schedule a consultation with a criminal defense lawyer in Birmingham. Serving South Side, Titusville, Red Mountain, Woodlawn, Ensley and surrounding areas.