VERA CHEEKS failed to halt at a ‘Stop’ sign in Georgia last year. Too poor to pay the ticket’s $135 fine, she was put on probation until she earned enough to cover the charge. But this came at a cost: her case was handled by a private firm, called Red Hills Community Probation, which charged an extra $132 for the privilege. The firm also told Ms Cheeks that she had to pay $50 immediately in order to avoid being sent to jail. Her fiancé ultimately rescued her with money from pawning her engagement ring and his gardening equipment.
Red Hills is now the target of two separate class-action lawsuits—one federal, one state—filed this month on behalf of Ms Cheeks and others. Both suits allege that Red Hills, acting on behalf of the government, wrongfully detained and jailed people who were too poor to afford court and probation fees. By some estimates, extra fees and surcharges on traffic fines add an extra 40% to the original ticket price. The ‘interest’ paid by a probationer comes to about 14% a month, and over 160% a year. “We’ve seen a pattern of private probation officers essentially holding people for ransom over...Continue reading