|August 27, 2014|
Previously published on August 15, 2014
Abuses by private correctional service contractors of non-violent probationers is a growing problem, according to numerous media reports. These probationers have typically committed low-level offenses, such as failing to pay traffic tickets, driving without proof of insurance, shoplifting, or public drunkenness.
These probationers are ordered to pay fines and enter into private correctional systems that offer halfway houses or electronic ankle bracelet supervision. The private companies also impose their own fees for housing and/or supervising the probationers, in addition to court-ordered fines.
Probationers lacking steady employment often find themselves falling behind on their payments to the private contractors. Failure to pay the high private-supervision fees can result in incarceration. As a result, many probationers go through drastic measures to pay the fees, such as forgoing rent, groceries, and medicine. Even after the probation period expires, these private correctional facilities often seek to collect any unpaid assessments and ignore the offenders' inability to pay.
As described in an article in New Yorker magazine, not only are probationers forced to underwrite the costs of the halfway houses they are sent to, but shocking reports have emerged of horrific practices by correctional service contractors, including:
- Repeated sexual harassment of female probationers;
- Selling and distribution of illegal drugs to probationers;
- Use of the facility for prostitution; and
- Staging "fight night," where staff places bets while offenders battle one another.
Such practices can constitute a violation of the probationers' civil rights.
Moreover, the government pays private companies running halfway houses fees to rehabilitate probationers and help them find stable housing, a good job, and treatment clinics for substance abuse. If instead, the probation companies are promoting or allowing abusive practices to occur, that constitutes a fraud on the government.
Through the False Claims Act, a person aware of abusive practices and fraud against the government can serve as a whistleblower and share in the recovery the government receives.