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The dangers posed by a privatized probation system

To many North Dakota residents, to hear the phrase "on probation" probably invokes a feeling of relief. Probation could signify that someone was given a "light punishment" for a minor crime, or that a person is simply being supervised after being released from jail to try to assimilate them back into society. Basically, "probation" may be related with "easy" in the minds of many.

However, this is not always the case -- and, in fact, the privatization of the probation "industry" (as it is in this context) has caused many people to suffer tremendously despite the fact they have committed minor offenses.

The courts hire these probation companies to handle a person's probation. Many of these people have committed minor crimes and they lack the financial footing to pay the fines that are associated with their crimes. In many cases, these fines are the reason they are on probation.

But these companies operate in a largely unregulated field that is essentially set up to make those who are on probation to fail. These people have fines; they can't pay the fines; they are put on probation, where the companies charge the in-debt people for their services; they can't pay those fees; and then they land in jail. This is how it goes in many cases. It's a system that is designed to make these minor criminal fail.

Making the situation even worse is the fact that if many of these people on probation simply had a little bit more money, they wouldn't be on probation in the first place. It's a really unfortunate relationship that only highlights the need for people who are accused of crimes (no matter how minor) to consult an attorney as quickly as possible so that they can sort out their case.

Source: Human Rights Watch, "US: For-Profit Probation Tramples Rights of Poor," Feb. 5, 2014

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