County, company settle probation lawsuit for $14.3M

Rutherford County and Providence Community Corrections have settled a class action lawsuit over private probation practices for $14.3 million, reports the Murfreesboro Post. The settlement will compensate nearly 30,000 Tennesseans for fees the company allegedly extorted from probationers.

“This case is a tragic illustration of what happens when for-profit companies are allowed to turn the criminal legal system into a mechanism for making money,” said Civil Rights Corps attorney Elizabeth Rossi.

When PCC took over Rutherford County’s probation system several years ago, rather than receiving a fee from the county, it earned millions in profits annually by requiring payments from low-income people under its supervision. Often this meant having probationers sent to jail because they couldn’t afford to pay its private fees and trapping them in a cycle of debt, endless probation extensions and more jail time, the plaintiffs’ attorneys contend.

…Under the terms of the agreement, which must be approved in federal court, PCC and Rutherford County will put the money into a fund to be used for compensating thousands of people who fell victim to the system. Potential class members will be notified by mail and receive compensation based on the amount of money they paid PCC. Some will be paid based on how long they were kept on probation.

PCC and Rutherford County admit no wrongdoing as part of the settlement in the lawsuit, which Mayor Ernest Burgess describes as a “complex” matter “with a lot of twists and turns.”

“There are some things we’re going to have to change going forward and how we manage misdemeanors coming through the court system, etc.,” Burgess said.

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