In Orange County, Calif., the probation department’s “supervised electronic confinement program,” which monitors the movements of low-risk offenders, has been outsourced to a private company, Sentinel Offender Services. The company, by its own account, oversees case management, including breath alcohol and drug-testing services, “all at no cost to county taxpayers.”
Sentinel makes its money by getting the offenders on probation to pay for the company’s services. Charges can range from $35 to $100 a month.
The company boasts of having contracts with more than 200 government agencies, and it takes pride in the “development of offender funded programs where any of our services can be provided at no cost to the agency.”
Sentinel is a part of the expanding universe of poverty capitalism. In this unique sector of the economy, costs of essential government services are shifted to the poor.
In terms of food, housing and other essentials, the cost of being poor has always been exorbitant. Landlords, grocery stores and other commercial enterprises have all found ways to profit from those at the bottom of the ladder.
The recent drive toward privatization of government functions has turned traditional public services into profit-making enterprises as well.
In addition to probation, municipal court systems are also turning collections over to a national network of companies like Sentinel that profit from service charges imposed on the men and women who are under court order to pay fees and fines, including traffic tickets (with the fees being sums tacked on by the court to fund administrative services).
When they cannot pay these assessed fees and fines – plus collection charges imposed by the private companies — offenders can be sent to jail. There are many documented cases in which courts have imprisoned those who failed to keep up with their combined fines, fees and service charges.