If you have ever had the misfortune of dealing with Rutherford County’s finest, you may have experienced the even deeper misfortune of finding yourself an unwitting client of Providence Community Corrections. For those of you out there fortunate enough to not have become acquainted with the organization, Providence Community Corrections is a private, for-profit probation company that the Rutherford County courts contract with to handle their misdemeanor probation cases. Providence is part of the larger Providence Service Corporation (Nasdaq: PRSC), a nationwide corporation that local government institutions outsource work like foster care, rehabilitation services or, in this instance, probation work, to. When compared to their felony state probation counterparts these contractors run a much stricter system for their clients, even though they were convicted on far lesser charges.
Providence (back then it was known as Maximus Solutions) was brought in at a time when the County Clerk’s office could no longer keep up the pace with all the probationers it had on paper. The county was already losing revenue in the form of unpaid probation costs and was going to need to hire more probation officers. The clerk’s office opted to outsource and brought in Providence to save the county money on benefits and pension costs. Providence had a corporate, streamlined approach to processing and monitoring probationers and during its tenure here the company has raised millions of dollars for the county. Despite popular rumors to the contrary, all dues paid to Providence actually go back to the county clerk’s office. If the probationers were not convicted of a drug offense and are paying their dues on time, Providence doesn’t make any money off of them reporting.
Among the most common offenses that could cause people to find themselves on misdemeanor probation include drunk driving and simple possession. All convicted offenders have 30 days to get their affairs in order before their probation officially begins. Drug offenders and others who do not get their fines and court appointed services (rehabilitation classes, trash pick-up, etc.) completed within the first 30 days of reporting will also be required to take a drug test. It is important to note that not every offense carries with it the option to move to unsupervised status after the fines are paid off. For instance, many drug offenders are required to report in for drug testing and not allowed to go on to unsupervised probation for the remainder of their sentencing.
Drug offenders are where much of the money is made in this business because they are required to pay for their drug tests at a huge profit for the company. The other big staple of the for-profit law enforcement industry are the court appointed services, like DUI school and anger management classes. These usually happen once a month and are also usually full. Just last year Providence was offering two of these classes. Their anger management class was priced at $85 and the DUI school was running for 12 hours at $125.
Providence is a for-profit institution that has been granted a monopoly where misdemeanor probation is concerned; the probationers have little choice but to deal with them. The probation officers work banker hours and won’t return your calls even if it could mean jail time for you. Being a place where all their clients are required to attend by court order, the company has little incentive to deliver a positive customer experience. While interviewing former clients I heard many complaints and allegations ranging from the unprofessional manner of some of their staff to having people thrown in jail on the ground of false positive drug test results. If you are a longtime reader of the Pulse, you may already be familiar with the case of one Jerry Fleming.
Fleming was a writer for the Pulse who shared his story of the time he spent in the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center on 940 New Salem Highway for multiple DUIs and violations of probation. The sad irony of his story is that after he was almost done with his probation sentence, he was run over by a sober driver while mowing a lawn and was hospitalized with multiple injuries. Fleming had to return home to his family in Ohio for care, and as a result of doing so, Providence violated him on the grounds of leaving the state. The sober driver, despite critically maiming someone with his negligence, served no jail time, but did find himself contracted into the Providence system.
Another former client of Providence’s that I interviewed described her experience in harrowing detail. A woman named Sharonda Taylor who had been with Providence in recent years, told me about how she had to leave her apartment in Nashville because of the 2010 flood and go stay with her family in Jackson, Tenn. She was a client of Providence at that time and she did the due diligence of providing her probation officers all of the necessary paperwork from FEMA and the Red Cross. While failure to report is grounds for violation, the probationer had communicated her situation to all the proper channels and received assurance she wouldn’t be violated. She then came to find shortly thereafter that they violated her, just like Mr. Fleming.
The county has invested a great deal of power in these probation officers. Imagine if you were dealing with a customer service representative for the big cable company. Now imagine there was problem with your bill and the customer service rep did not like your attitude so they tried to throw you in jail. If you get upset about the poor service and lack of customer care with a company such as Comcast, you can leave and just not have Internet service, which may be pretty bad, but it’s not jail time.
One of PCC’s former clients that I interviewed described her experience as her probation officers doing anything and everything to violate her, not unlike a customer service representative that is only allowed so many cancellations on the calls they take each month fighting hard to keep you a customer. Providence is a for-profit company, it is in their best interest to create violations and thus retain their customers, that is the nature of the beast.
While working on this story, I found that a common belief held by many of the probationers that I spoke with was that Providence was a privately held company and that our judges were being paid off by it. This theory was meant to explain why so many people that go through our court system end up on probation. Providence is not a privately held company. Providence is a subsidiary of the Providence Service Corporation (PRSC on the Nasdaq) and anyone can invest in it. The parent company has a website, and provcorp.com will show you all the various other entities that make up the Providence Service Corporation, mostly firms offering rehabilitation services and quasi-governmental operations. I spoke with Providence’s affiliate in Davidson County, Camelot Care Centers, they were mostly focused on foster care. The company has a nationwide presence with operations in most states, many of which are also operating private, for-profit, probation companies.
Many events have transpired in the past few years in this county as it continues its trend as being one of the fastest-growing areas in the country. Last year, on the Fourth of July, we witnessed footage of an unconstitutional checkpoint staffed by members of the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office going viral. In the past year, we witnessed our sheriff’s department letting one of their own employees off the hook on a blatant DUI offense. As private, for-profit interests creep into our law enforcement sector, so shrink our personal freedoms. Providence is but just a piece in this very complicated and tangled web of interests that are trying to fleece you and put you in jail for their own profit.