User funded probation companies face lawsuit in Giles County

Private probation companies are facing lawsuits in Tennessee for extorting money from the people they supervise.

Posted: Apr 27, 2018 9:31 PM
Updated: Apr 28, 2018 5:10 PM

Two private, for profit probation companies are involved in a federal lawsuit in Giles County for extorting money from the people they supervise.

According to the press release sent by the Civil Rights Corps, PSI Probation and Community Probation Services are contracted with Giles County to run a "user funded" probation system.

The companies claim that the only source of income they receive is from the fees that the people they supervise pay them.

This lawsuit is similar to the one filed in 2015 that shut down the use of private probation companies in Rutherford County, TN.

Karen McNeil is one of the five people now suing Giles County and the two private probation companies it uses. She claims that she was repeatedly jailed for being too poor to pay her supervision fees.

“Misdemeanor probation should not be run at the expense of the poor and as revenue streams for the
county and private companies,” said Civil Rights Corps Attorney Jonas Wang. “The private companies are
essentially debt collectors for the county. This ‘user-funded’ scheme creates a creature previously
unknown to American law: a probation officer with an inherent conflict of interest because the company
relies on the same people it supervises to turn a profit.”

The lawsuit states that McNeil pled guilty to driving on a suspended license in 2015.
She was then put on probation and ordered to pay $426 in fines and fees - plus $45 a month to the probation company that supervised her and $45 for each drug test.

McNeil said she paid more than double her initial fine, but when she missed a probation appearance because she was in the hospital, her probation office filed a violation of probation and she ended up in jail.

According to the lawsuit, McNeil has been sent to jail on four different occasions in the past three years.

Since then she has been paying her fees out of her disability benefits and hasn't been able to afford rent or utilities, so she lives in a tent.

“This is our two-tiered justice system at its finest – rich people can buy their way off probation, while poor
people charged with petty offenses get squeezed for every penny,” said Attorney Kyle Mothershead in the release.
“Probation is not supposed to keep people down.”

The federal lawsuit is from Civil Rights Corps, Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym and Attorney Kyle Mothershead.

In the lawsuit that took place in Rutherford County, Civil Rights Corps secured a $14 million settlement against the county and its private probation company, Providence Community Corrections.

As part of that lawsuit a federal judge ordered Rutherford County to release several inmates from its jail and the county ended its use of for-profit probation.

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