* I put this post together during the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, but never published it. Not sure why. But as you’ll soon see, it’s relevant to today’s revelation about Bruce Rauner.
* I’ve known several people, all poor, who faced the constant threat of arrest over things like a small fine not being paid, or a hospital collects on a debt and a court date is missed and they can’t afford to pony up…
In Ferguson, court fees and fines are the second largest source of funds for the city; $2.6 million was collected in 2013 alone. That’s become a key source of tension. There is a perception in the area, Harvey says, that the black population is targeted to pay those fines. Eighty-six percent of the traffic stops, for example, happen to black residents — even though the city is 67 percent black.
“I can’t tell you what’s going on in the mind of a police officer but, in the mind of my clients, they’re being pulled over because they’re black,” Harvey says. “They’re being pulled over so the city can generate revenue.” […]
“This becomes a major issue: if you can’t pay your fines, you stop going to court. And then a warrant goes out for their arrest, and if they don’t have the fine money they’ll sit in jail until the next court date. We’re talking about traffic tickets here, really the lowest level offense.”
* People all over the country get caught up in this ridiculous cycle. And if they do wind up arrested and sit in jail, they can lose their jobs and their kids. From the New Yorker…
(A)cross much of America, what starts as a simple speeding ticket can, if you’re too poor to pay, mushroom into an insurmountable debt, padded by probation fees and, if you don’t appear in court, by warrant fees. (Often, poverty means transience—not everyone who is sent a court summons receives it.) “Across the country, impoverished people are routinely jailed for court costs they’re unable to pay,” Alec Karakatsanis, a cofounder of Equal Justice Under Law, a nonprofit civil-rights organization that has begun challenging this practice in municipal courts, said. These kinds of fines snowball when defendants’ cases are turned over to for-profit probation companies for collection, since the companies charge their own “supervision” fees. What happens when people fall behind on their payments? Often, police show up at their doorsteps and take them to jail.
From there, the snowball rolls. “Going to jail has huge impacts on people at the edge of poverty,” Sara Zampieren, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, told me. “They lose their job, they lose custody of their kids, they get behind on their home-foreclosure payments,” the sum total of which, she said, is “devastating.” While in prison, “user fees” often accumulate, so that, even after you leave, you’re not quite free. A recent state-by-state survey conducted by NPR showed that in at least forty-three states defendants can be billed for their own public defender, a service to which they have a Constitutional right; in at least forty-one states, inmates can be charged for room and board in jail and prison.
* Thankfully, Illinois took a stand against this craziness two years ago. From a May 30, 2012 press release…
Attorney General Lisa Madigan today applauded state lawmakers for supporting the Debtors’ Rights Act of 2012, a measure that would protect poor people from being jailed over unpaid debts.
Small traffic-related fines, hospital bills and the like were covered under that legislation. It was a very good bill that helped Illinois move away from criminalizing poverty. Other states, however, are not so enlightened.
* Now, on to Bruce Rauner. It’s not known whether Rauner had anything to do with plans to purchase this company, which was finalized just two months after he retired from GTCR, so it’s once again difficult to pin anything on him. From the Chicago Reader…
Though Rauner retired from GTCR in 2012, he’s still an investor in it. Not long after he left the firm, it acquired a company called Correctional Healthcare Companies, which provides medical and mental care, including “behavioral programming,” for prisons and jails that want to save money by outsourcing such services.
Illinois is one of the states that’s contracted with CHC. As the Better Government Association has reported, the mental care it’s provided at juvenile detention facilities has been the subject of a lawsuit—though the suit was filed against the Quinn administration. Records show that the state has paid CHC about $21 million since 2012.
But CHC owns another company that does far more controversial work. Judicial Correction Services doesn’t operate in Illinois, but in a number of states in the south it’s a leading provider of what’s called private or offender-funded probation. Simply put, the company contracts with local courts to oversee people on probation for misdemeanor offenses. The arrangement is attractive to budget-cutting officials because there are no direct costs for taxpayers: the offenders cover expenses by paying monthly fees to be supervised.
The thing is, these aren’t hardened criminals—they’re people snared in the court system for committing low-level offenses. And the problem with asking them to pay is that many of them are on probation because they didn’t have the money to pay the fines for their misdemeanors in the first place. The ACLU calls the practice “court-sanctioned extortion.”
* From that BGA story…
In Illinois, the company has drawn criticism in connection with a federal lawsuit filed in 2012 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois against the state Department of Juvenile Justice, accusing the state agency of inadequately treating detainees with mental health conditions. […]
But Dr. Louis Kraus, a court-appointed expert in the ACLU case, says he found that Correctional Healthcare “is not meeting the needs of the kids.” Kraus, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center, says he found some Correctional Healthcare employees lacked the training and certification needed to treat juveniles with serious mental health and psychiatric problems. […]
An unrelated court case, which was settled in November 2012 for undisclosed terms, accused Correctional Healthcare of being “deliberately indifferent” to the medical needs of an unnamed Illinois youth prisoner. That lawsuit was filed in May 2011 in federal court in Chicago against Correctional Healthcare, an affiliate of the company and a Correctional Healthcare physician the lawsuit said didn’t send the detainee to a hospital until more than 14 hours after the boy first complained of severe testicular pain. As a result, one of the boy’s testicles had to be surgically removed, according to the suit.