Equal Justice Under Law
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Fighting Abusive Private Probation

 
 

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.

The Rutherford County Sheriff was questioning the county's private, for-profit probation system. Sheriff Robert Arnold said his jail was dangerously overcrowded and he pointed to the large number of non-violent, misdemeanor probation violators kept behind bars as the main reason for the overcrowding.

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.

Sleeping with your head next to the toilet, to me, that’s just not right, but it’s the conditions we have right now. I don’t have any other choices.
— Murfreesboro Sheriff, Robert Arnold

 

 

 

 

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Rodriguez v. Providence Community Corrections 


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.

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.

 

Our Lawsuit: On October 1, 2015, Equal Justice Under Law and the law firm Baker Donelson filed a landmark RICO and constitutional class action lawsuit — Rodriguez v. Providence Community Corrections — 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
 
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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.

 

case details


The Complaint

Status: Settled

Date Filed: 10/01/15

Plaintiffs: Cindy Rodriguez, Steven Gibbs, Paula Pullum, Yolanda Carney, Jacqueline Brinkley, Curtis Johnson, Fred Robinson

Defendants: Providence Community Corrections, Inc., Rutherford County TN

Jurisdiction: The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee Nashville Division

Partners: Baker Donelson

 

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.