[Norm’s note (8/11/17): Occasionally, every reader stumbles upon a few lines that, like some picture or cleverly contrived tableau, encapsulate with perfect clarity the nub of an issue that might otherwise require a detailed and protracted exposition. Someone today found this short excerpt that I pilfered and posted some time ago, reminding me of it. In my opinion, it brilliantly exposes the utter rot of the (American) capitalist mindset and the (exceptional) culture that it underpins.
Norm’s note: all of what follows is an excerpt from an article titled “Policing and Profit,” which you can find here, Harvard Law Review:
“In April 2012, Tom Barrett was arrested for stealing a can of beer from a convenience store in Augusta, Georgia.20 When Barrett appeared in court, he was offered the services of a court-appointed attorney for a $80 fee.21 Barrett refused to pay and pled “no contest” to a shoplifting charge. The court sentenced Barrett to a $200 fine plus a year of probation.22 Barrett’s probation terms required him to wear an alcohol-monitoring bracelet. Even though Barrett’s sentence did not require him to stop drinking alcohol (and the bracelet would thus detect all the alcohol Barrett chose to drink with no consequences), he was ordered to either rent this bracelet or go to jail.23 The bracelet cost Barrett a $50 startup fee, a $39 monthly service fee, and a $12 daily usage fee. Though Barrett’s $200 fine went to the city, these other fees (totaling over $400 a month) all went to Sentinel Offender Services, a private company.
“Unable to pay Sentinel’s fees, Barrett spent more than a month in jail before he convinced a friend to lend him the $80 startup fee.24 But Barrett, whose only source of income at the time was selling his blood plasma, struggled to keep up with Sentinel’s fees. “You can donate plasma twice a week as long as you’re physically able to . . . . I’d donate as much plasma as I could and I took that money and I threw it on the leg monitor.”25 As Barrett began skipping meals to pay Sentinel, his protein levels dropped so much that he was ineligible to donate plasma. After Barrett’s debt grew to over $1,000, Sentinel obtained a warrant for his arrest.26 Barrett was arrested and told by a judge that he could stay out of jail if he paid Sentinel several hundred dollars.27 Barrett was still unable to pay: “I’m thinking, ‘But the whole problem is, I don’t have money.’ So they locked me up. And I just said, ‘Golly.’”28 “
“Barrett’s story cuts across several aspects of how local governments use policing, how private companies profit from policing, and how poor people experience policing.”
20.Human Rights Watch, Profiting from Probation 34 (2014)
21. Joseph Shapiro, Measures Aimed at Keeping People Out of Jail Punish the Poor., NPR (May 24, 2014, 4:58 PM),
23. Human Rights Watch, supra note 20, at 34–35.
24. Id. at 34.
25. Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).
26. Id. at 34–35.
27. Id. at 35.