Politics Magazine

Privatization Increases Inequality In Our Justice System

Posted on the 25 September 2015 by Jobsanger
Privatization Increases Inequality In Our Justice System (This image is from the website PRWatch.)
There is a trend that has been going on for quite a while now -- and it bothers me a great deal. It is the privatization of our criminal justice system. This is happening in many ways -- from creating private for-profit prisons, to the services provided to the system by many different companies (like electronic monitoring, food services, etc.).
The idea is to cover (or at least reduce) the costs of administering criminal justice, and if possible, even turn it into a profitable venture for government. This may sound good, but it is a very bad idea. Taking the cost to the taxpayer out of administering criminal justice means the taxpayer (i.e., the ordinary citizen) will care less about what happens in that system. If citizens are going to arrest, convict, and incarcerate people, then the state (the taxpayer) should be the one paying for that -- because then they will keep an eye on that system and attempt to make it work right.
Privatization does the opposite. By turning criminal justice into a profit-making business, we lessen oversight of citizens and increase the possibility of abuse (especially if that abuse results in more profit). And it increases the inequality in our system of justice. When justice is "for sale", the poor are left out, and don't get the same quality of justice that the rich can afford. Don't we already have enough of an equality problem already, without creating more so someone can make a profit (off a system that should never be used for profit, but for justice)?
The following post (written by Josie Duffy for Daily Kos) illustrates one way this privatization is creating an unfair system of justice (but there are many more). I would ask -- is this the kind of justice we want? Does fairness no longer matter?
Rampant privatization is leading to collateral consequences. In almost every possible part of the criminal justice process, privatization results in a system that disproportionately punishes the indigent. Now the International Business Timesreports there is a new way that for-profit justice is ruining the lives of the poor: GPS tracking.
In South Carolina, a traffic violation resulted in the arrest and $2,100 bail of Antonio Green, a father of five. One of the conditions of his bail was being forced to wear an electronic monitoring device. And not only did have to wear it—he had to pay for it. According to the article, "In Richland County, South Carolina, any person ordered to wear the ankle monitor as a condition of their bail must lease the bracelet from a private, for-profit company called Offender Management Services (OMS)." Green was living on $900 a month, but was charged a $179.50 set-up fee, plus $9.25 a day to wear the device. In other words, the device ended up costing him half his monthly income that first month, and a third of his income every month after. He didn't have much of a choice. After all, those that can't pay go back to jail. Green paid a total of about $2,500 for the device over nine months, during which he "had gone broke, racked up debt from overdraft fees, and spiraled into anxiety over his finances." And it looked like he'd have to wait another year before trial, which would have cost another $3,600 at least. He couldn't afford that money. Slowly, it became an untenable burden on him and his family. So last month, he turned himself in. When Green got to the courthouse, he found out some interesting news: His case had actually been thrown out two months earlier. No one had thought to let him know. Surprising, as they knew where he was every moment and were still managing to collect his money. This is not an isolated incident. Counties and states across the nation are not only tracking individuals but forcing them to pay for it. For someone like Antonio Green, a traffic violation turned into an unbearable financial burden. What's more, the actual monitoring of defendants, especially those who have not committed serious crimes, is in itself terrifying. People are paying significant money for the complete loss of their privacy. For more on this story, see the International Business Times article here.

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