Fighting Abusive Private Probation Practices

Equal Justice Under Law and the law firm Baker Donelson filed a landmark RICO and constitutional class action lawsuit in federal court in Nashville, Tennessee challenging the predatory practices of Providence Community Corrections (“PCC”), a private probation company in Murfreesboro whose employees extorted, threatened, and abused probationers who were poor.

In a no-bid contract, Rutherford County handed over their probation system to PCC. 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 six-month investigation — initially led with a team of Harvard Law School Students on Spring Break — exposed rampant corruption, racketeering, and constitutional violations pervading the Rutherford County probation system.

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.

Our lawsuit forced PCC to cease operations in Tennessee and eventually cease any private probation operations across the country. Currently, we are heading toward a settlement that will benefit almost 30,000 class members.

Selected Media Stories

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“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


“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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