Sunday, July 8, 2012

Another Horror Story of the Conservative Agenda to Privatize Government Services to For-Profit Firms

In This Case – Creating Debtor’s Prison and Debtor Prisoners

One of the staples of Conservative thought (thought??) is that to the maximum extent possible government services should be performed by the private sector.  In some cases this is a reasonable position, for example a local government might better serve the populace by contracting out for garbage pick-up.  But Conservatives want to extend this to things like the criminal justice system, a sector that is uniquely not suited for private operation.

One more piece of evidence that privatizing law enforcement services is taking place in the American south, where private administration of probation and other services is resulting in people going to jail for not being able to pay traffic fines.

Three years ago, Gina Ray, who is now 31 and unemployed, was fined $179 for speeding. She failed to show up at court (she says the ticket bore the wrong date), so her license was revoked. When she was next pulled over, she was, of course, driving without a license. By then her fees added up to more than $1,500. Unable to pay, she was handed over to a private probation company and jailed — charged an additional fee for each day behind bars.

Why is this happening?  Money and politics.  The politics are that Conservatives want to end government services altogether, and when they cannot they want to minimize costs and provide private companies with a profit.  And if low income people suffer, well the Conservative position is that they shouldn’t be low income people.

Here in Childersburg, where there is no public transportation, Ms. Ray has plenty of company in her plight. Richard Garrett has spent a total of 24 months in jail and owes $10,000, all for traffic and license violations that began a decade ago. A onetime employee of United States Steel Corporation, he is suffering from health difficulties and is without work. William M. Dawson, a Birmingham lawyer and Democratic Party activist, has filed a lawsuit for Mr. Garrett and others against the local authorities and the probation company, Judicial Correction Services, which is based in Georgia.

If the current Supreme Court were anything other than dominated by Conservatives, this sort of thing would be illegal.  In fact, even with the current Court it could be that this is illegal.  It is a long standing legal principle in the United States that one cannot be jailed for the inability to pay.  But principles don’t keep people out of jail, government does.  That is governments that care.

Mr. Bright, of the Southern Center for Human Rights, complained that with the private companies seeking a profit, courts in need of income and the most vulnerable caught up in the system, “we end up balancing the budget on the backs of the poorest people in society.”

Governments that care, Conservative dominated governments don’t fit that category. 

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