A probation-for-profit company that heaped fees on central Tennesseans convicted of minor offenses, even though many were too poor to pay, has agreed to a $14.3 million settlement to reimburse those charges.
The company, Providence Community Corrections, Inc., and officials in Rutherford County, Tennessee, agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by seven probationers acting as representatives for nearly 30,000 others once supervised by the company. Under that pact, which must still be approved by a federal judge, PCC does not acknowledge any fault. But it has agreed to pay $14 million to the probationers and another $350,000 to the county. Rutherford County has agreed to pay $300,000 of that to the probationers as its share of the settlement.
“It’s money we believe was illegally extorted from them by PCC,” said Phil Telfeyan, executive director of Equal Justice Under Law, a civil rights advocacy group that filed the lawsuit in late 2015. “But it’s also to send a message to private probation companies that violating people’s rights doesn’t pay.”
Roughly $13 million of the settlement money is intended to compensate probationers, with the rest going to Telfeyan’s group, a private law firm and Civil Rights Corps, an advocacy group started by one of the founders of Equal Justice that handled a portion of the casework.
PCC, which was sold soon after the lawsuit was filed and changed its name to Pathways Community Corrections, is one of a number of companies in more than a dozen states that turned misdemeanor probation into a profit-making venture in recent years. County and local courts that contracted with the firms frequently did not pay for those services. Instead, people convicted of minor crimes paid fines to avoid court-ordered supervision. Those who couldn’t pay had to report regularly to the private companies, who charged fees for supervision, drug-testing and related services.
PCC announced in March 2016 that it was shutting down its private probation business, but that left the lawsuit pending.
“Pathways closed the PCC business almost two years ago and is glad to have resolved this legacy matter,” the company said in a prepared statement addressing the settlement. A lawyer for the company, Manuel Abascal, said it would have no further comment.
A lawyer representing Rutherford County, southeast of Nashville, did not immediately return a call for comment. Individual probationers who brought the lawsuit also could not be reached for comment.
The settlement calls for each of the seven probationers named in the lawsuit to receive $10,000. In addition, they and others supervised by PCC’s Rutherford County office as far back as October 2011 are eligible to be reimbursed for fees they were charged, as well as $50 for every month they were under PCC’s supervision.
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