A few years ago, I praised Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal for vetoing a bill that would have expanded the state’s privatized parole and probation system. The problem with privatized probation is pretty straightforward: The goal of probation ought to be to get people off probation, out of state supervision and back to being productive members of society. Private probation companies make their money from people on probation. This means that every person they help move off of probation is one less paying “client.” The incentives are exactly backward.
Sure enough, we’ve seen in places such as Tennessee that private probation companies tend to be pretty bad at actually getting people off probation. And we still see it in Georgia as well. The bill Deal vetoed would have expanded private probation in the state, but Georgia already used — and still uses — private probation more than any other state. It’s at least a $40 million industry in that state alone.
So what does Georgia have to show for it? Well, last month, Pew released a study on probation and parole in the United States. Take a look at Figure 3, the map of states colored by their rate of probation. In Georgia, 1 out of every 18 people is on probation or parole. That’s a staggering figure. The U.S.average is 1 in 55. The state with the next highest rate after Georgia is Idaho, at 1 in 33.
I suppose an advocate for private probation could point to some other state where it’s common, and where the rate of parole and probation is lower. But it’s hard to overcome the fact that Georgia sends more people to private parole and probation companies than any other state — and if the goal is to get people off of state supervision, that system clearly isn’t working.