Gov. Haslam, still hot for privatization, might want to check out what’s happening in our privatized prison industrial complex, which has apparently found a wonderful new revenue source:
A private probation company in Tennessee is violating racketeering laws by jailing impoverished people who fail to pay court fines for traffic violations and misdemeanor offenses, and by refusing to waive fees for the indigent, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.
In the lawsuit, seven probationers, many of them sick or disabled and living on as little as $129 a month in food stamps, say they lost housing, jobs and cars, sold their blood plasma and went without food after repeated threats by the company that they would be jailed if they could not pay.
The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Nashville, alleges that the county and the company, Providence Community Corrections in Rutherford County, southeast of Nashville, are violating racketeering laws by extorting money through “the wrongful use of fear.”
Ah, terrific! Literally profiting off the plasma of the poorest of the poor. You know, I didn’t think it was possible to get blood from a stone but Tennessee Republicans have certainly managed to find some. I guess I didn’t think about the selling plasma part.
This is how privatization works, Gov. Haslam! I mean, when your only concern is whether a private company can do something cheaper, privatization looks pretty awesome, right? But the savings have to come from somewhere, right? This is how capitalism works, right?! Someone, somewhere along the line, pays. So let’s unpack this story and see who that person is:
The lawsuit in Tennessee, filed by Equal Justice Under Law, a civil rights group, and the pro bono arm of the law firm Baker Donelson, describes a financial arrangement between the county and Providence Community Corrections that is typical in many respects: The county pays nothing to the company, which earns money instead by charging monthly fees to probationers as well as surcharges for drug tests, warrants and other services.
Oh, that’s nice. So the county pays nothing, and the company charges the indigent. Somehow the good Christian people of Rutherford County thought this dirty piece of business was gonna end up being clean? Seriously? You thought you could get something for nothing? Are you people idiots?
And let’s look at these surcharges for drug tests. Were they, maybe, performed by Aegis Sciences, the drug testing company owned by the husband of prominent Tennessee Republican Rep. Diane Black? Maybe! Love how the Republican Welfare Gravy Train works, don’t you?
But wait, there’s more:
The company even refused to let destitute probationers complete their required community service hours without first paying a community service fee, the plaintiffs say.
The arrangement gives the company a direct financial interest in the length of probationary periods. It also gives it broad powers to set the conditions of probation, including such requirements as forbidding alcohol consumption regardless of the nature of the offense, and to “revoke” probation and have the offender jailed, according to the suit.
The plaintiffs say that once they were sent to county jail, they were manhandled or ridiculed by jail officials. Paula Pullum, a 48-year-old plaintiff with severe medical problems — including a heart ailment — claims that when she submitted a letter detailing her health issues and required medications, a jailer tore it up.
Plaintiffs say that even when the company was aware of their indigence, they were not told they could apply to have their court costs waived. When they asked for a waiver, they said, they were denied or told they would first have to make payments for several months, pay for the form, pass a $20 drug test and pay a $25 fee to get a court hearing.
Yes, someone always pays! And when it’s the poor — or the poorest of the poor — who cares, amiright? That’s what they get for being poor. Stupid poors! Why can’t you be rich like the rest of us! Meanwhile, let’s continue to tell ourselves that the poor are lazy, that the playing field is even, that everyone has the same opportunities as everyone else, etc. Then we can grandstand about tight budgets and small government and the super awesome private sector and the need to privatize because cheaper, better, shinier, sparklier, etc. etc. etc. It’s super awesome, you guys — as long as you don’t look to closely.
And by the way, the lawsuit has been filed by the D.C.-based civil rights non-profit Equal Justice Under The Law. This is the kind of stuff ACORN used to do. I expect this group to be targeted by some James O’Keefe acolyte in 5 … 4… 3….