Fighting Abusive Private Probation Practices

In a no-bid contract, Rutherford County in Tennessee handed over their probation system to Providence Community Corrections (“PCC”), a private probation company in Murfreesboro. Since the county paid nothing for the service, the company earned its millions in annual profits by extorting money from the impoverished people that it was supposed to be supervising. People were arrested, assessed more fees, and trapped in a cycle of debt, endless probation extensions, and jail.

In 2015, Equal Justice Under Law went on a six-month investigation — initially led with a team of Harvard Law School Students on Spring Break — and exposed rampant corruption, racketeering, and constitutional violations pervading the Rutherford County probation system.

Our Lawsuit

On October 1, 2015, Equal Justice Under Law and the law firm Baker Donelson filed a landmark RICO and constitutional class action lawsuitRodriguez v. Providence — in federal court in Nashville, Tennessee challenging the predatory practices of PCC, accusing its employees of extorting, threatening, and abusing probationers who were poor.

Equal Justice Under Law and its partners first won an emergency order from the federal court in Nashville blocking the county and the company from arresting and jailing two of our clients.

On December 17, 2015, the court issued a landmark preliminary injunction ruling protecting thousands of additional misdemeanor probationers, ordering the release of those illegally jailed, and preventing the company and the county from illegally keeping impoverished misdemeanor probationers in jail solely because of their inability to pay.

Settlement

On September 18, 2017, PCC and Rutherford County agreed to a settlement.

The settlement, for $14.3 million, will compensate nearly 30,000 Tennesseans for fees that PCC was alleged to have extorted out of probationers. PCC is paying $14 million for the class members, and Rutherford County is contributing $300,000.

This settlement is an important victory for the nearly 30,000 class members who PCC subjected to predatory and abusive practices. In addition to recompensating tens of thousands of probationers for fees that PCC illegally collected, this settlement sends a clear message to private probation companies all across the country: you will pay for violating probationers’ constitutional rights.

The settlement is currently pending court approval.

Impact

  • Our lawsuit forced PCC to end its private probation operations, not only in Tennessee, but all across the country.
  • We successfully helped negotiate a $14 million settlement (pending court approval) on behalf of 30,000 victims of PCC’s practices.
  • Our efforts brought statewide and national media attention to how private probation companies are profiting by extorting probations who are poor.

Selected Media Stories

(For more media, please contact our Communications Department at communications@equaljusticeunderlaw.org)

TV/Video/Radio

“At Least 13 Inmates Released from Rutherford County Jail After Federal Order” by Jessica Jaglois for WKRN in Nashville, Tennessee (ABC Affiliate) on December 18, 2015

“Sheriff Calls Rutherford County’s Probation System A ‘Rat Wheel’” by Ben Hall for News Channel 5 in Nashville (CBS Affiliate) November 19, 2015

Print

“Probation-for-profit to pay $14 million settlement” by Adam Geller for the Associated Press (as reprinted here in the Washington Post) on September 25, 2017

“Lawsuit Against PCC, Rutherford County Settled for $14.3 million” by Sam Stockard for the Murfreesboro Post on September 18, 2017

“Probation Company, Rutherford County Paying $14.3 Million to Settle Extortion Lawsuit” by Adam Tamburin for The Tennessean on September 19, 2017

“Probation-for-Profit Just Got Less Profitable” by Beth Schwartzapfel for The Marshall Project on April 13, 2017

“Suit Against Rutherford County, PCC Will Continue” by Michelle Willard for The Tennessean on March 22, 2016

“Preliminary Injunction Granted in Class-Action Suit Challenging Private Probation Services in Tennessee” by David Reutter for Prison Legal News on November 8, 2016

“Judge Says You Can’t Lock Up People On Probation For Being Poor” by Kim Bellware for The Huffington Post on December 21, 2015

“Private Probation Company Accused of Abuses in Tennessee” by Shaila Dewan for The New York Times on October 1, 2015

“How to Fight Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons: Sue the Courts,” by Alysia Santo for The Marshall Project on October 1, 2015

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