Rutherford County and a private company settled a sweeping class action suit after being accused of extortion.
The Tennessee county had formerly contracted with Providence Community Corrections and Pathways Community Corrections, between 2011 and 2016.
According to The Tennessean, the private companies were tasked with overseeing low-level probation cases.
Among the responsibilities of Providence Community Corrections was charging individuals on probations for supervision. They also collected court costs.
The lawsuit claimed that PCC regularly threatened those under its power with jail time, harsh fines, and stricter probation terms if they couldn’t pay private fees to the company.
At least seven defendants claim to have lost their homes, cars, and jobs, while trying to keep afloat in the mess of money exchanges and demands for increased financing. Others had to sell plasma, give up disability checks, or skimp out on buying groceries to avoid staying out of jail.
Filed in 2015 by advocacy group Equal Justice Under Law, along with national firm Baker Donelson, PCC and nine probation officers were initially named as defendants, according to The Tennessean. Editor’s note: While the suit was originally filed by EJUL, Civil Rights Corps now represents the plaintiffs and negotiated the settlement.
Despite maintaining their innocence and claiming no wrongdoing, PCC and Rutherford County opted to settle.
Under the terms of the settlement, PCC is due to pay $14 million, while Rutherford County will shell out the comparatively paltry sum of $300,000.
In a statement paraphrased by The Tennessean, Equal Justice Under Law said the brunt of the suit’s payout would go toward “recompensating” the nearly 30,000 people “PCC was alleged to have extorted.”
“This settlement is an important victory for the nearly 30,000 class members who PCC subjected to predatory and abusive practices,” said Phil Telfeyan, executive director of Equal Justice Under Law. “This settlement sends a clear message to private probation companies all across the country: you will pay for violating probationers’ constitutional rights.”
PCC stopped overseeing probation cases nationwide shortly after the lawsuit was filed.
In a statement, the company’s local attorney in Rutherford County, Lisa Rivera, said, “Pathways closed the PCC business almost two years ago and is glad to have resolved this legacy matter.
“Pathways remains focused on its core business of providing behavioral and mental health services to its clients across the country,” she said.
Speaking for the county, attorney Josh McCreary said Rutherford was “pleased with the resolution, which is the result of hard work by county officials and the parties involved.
“While the county denies any wrongdoing, if the court approves the settlement, it will end a very complex lawsuit and protect the county against possible exposure to unwanted liability.”