Two years ago, Blubberpuss, now unemployed and nearing forty, was fined $71 for operating an air hammer without a license. He failed to make his court appearance, claiming the date on the ticket was smudged and his contractor’s license was revoked.
When caught again, this time with a reciprocal saw, Blubberpuss was remanded to Flubug County Detention Center and his debt turned over to Dickwadd Private Probation, Inc. Blubberpuss was charged a fee for every day he was behind bars and a series of additional fees including an “enrollment fee” for participating in his own incarceration.
“It’s sort of like having some skin in the game,” said Carlton Dickwadd, Jr., sole proprietor of DPPI. “It’s pay to play, if you know what I mean.”
And companies like Dickwadd’s are not unique. More than fifty for-profit probation companies have sprung up across Down County in the last six months. And they’ve become the first resort for cash-strapped municipalities who’ve tasked the courts with netting cash instead of meting out justice.
“Look,” said Mayor Ornery, defending his move toward privatized probation. “It’s not like we’re sitting on Fort Knox. Flubug is broke. We need to get paid for our services like any other business.”
But Blubberpuss and many others take issue with the notion that incarceration is a service. His initial fines totaled $91. But with enrollment, service and administrative fees tacked onto the cost of processing, background checks and incarceration, his debt swelled to an astronomical $1,700. With no income, Blubberpuss was jailed again, this time for thirty days. He was also charged $20 per diem to offset the cost of his incarceration.
“At this rate,” he said in a note passed to us by a sympathetic orderly. “I’ll spend the rest of my life behind bars.”
Dickwadd agrees. “We’re just providing a service the government is unable to provide efficiently. The fees we charge are only used to cover overhead. If you don’t get fined, we don’t get paid!”
But Beverley Koons, head of the Balto Civil Liberties Commune, a socialist organization with ties to the public library, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Blubberpuss, claiming the fees were arbitrary, confiscatory and patently illegal. “Letting private companies assess fines and throw people in jail is an egregious violation of the Constitution. Dickwadd assesses thirty different fees on its victims, many total $2,500 or more… in addition to the original fine!”
Babs Stricklen, another socialist with a Humanities degree, sees the move toward privatized probation as little more than a Ponzi scheme. “Our research shows that Flubug, far from cash-strapped, is using the funds for Mayor Ornery’s retirement account, a sprawling addition to Sheriff Ramsey’s home, a humidor for the police academy and sentencing software that lets cops pass judgment on suspects right on the street, up to and including summary execution!”
Even some on the right see constitutional issues with privatized probation, including Timothy Inveigh who runs a residential prison in Bradshaw’s Pike. “I’m all for getting the government out of governing. And I’m all for letting bill collectors throw criminals in jail. But why should private companies be restricted to jailing felons and people with misdemeanors? In a free market they should be able to go after anyone.”
Yet no matter where you stand on the issue, privatized probation is a sign of the times. Fines and penalties assessed by private companies for their public clients may seem excessive, but as Dickwadd points out: “the fines collected in a single case can pay for a community wading pool or an enhanced interrogation center. So, we’re adding value.”
The result has been an inordinate number of poor people in jail and mired in debt for minor infractions.
Dustin Ashe, partner at Ashe, Holder and Reemer, the law firm that advised Down County to retain Dickwadd’s company, finds the idea that probation companies target the poor absurd. “You wanna talk poor? I’ll tell you who’s poor: Flubug, Poison Wells, Watersbad Canyon, Balto, the whole damn county! Without firms like Dickwadd they couldn’t afford to prosecute anyone if it meant jail time. With Dickwadd, the crime rate is down, the coffers are up and everybody’s happy.”
Everyone, of course, except Blubberpuss.
Koons blames the State Supreme Court. “The Supreme Court is to blame for this mess. Their 5-4 ruling last year mandated the courts to be financially self-sufficient by 2013. That turned judges into revenue-generating loan sharks and private companies into willing strongmen.”
But again, Dickwadd takes issue with that characterization. “My job isn’t to strongarm anyone. It’s to keep people out of jail. If they don’t pay we don’t get paid. And sure, there are times when a year in jail can be persuasive. Enhanced interrogation techniques can help, too. I can’t tell you the number of times enhanced interrogation helped locate a friend or relative with enough money to pay off the debt, especially when a firearm’s discharged while they’re on the phone.”
If you’re behind in your court-ordered payments or need more time to pay your fines, contact Dickwadd Private Probation, Inc. You’ll be happy you did.