Private Justice

     Now they’re privatizing the justice system.
     It’s not enough that we hire mercenaries to fight our wars and interrogate our prisoners overseas, and let private companies imprison our citizens at home, now we’re letting private debt collectors use district attorneys’ letterhead to threaten people with jail – so long as the collectors kick back some money to the district attorneys.
     I didn’t believe it either, until I read Courthouse News reporter Erin McCauley’s story this week, and read for myself the federal class action Shouse v. National Corrective Group and Andrew Jarbola III.
     But there it is, in a federal court filing. The class claims that “approximately twenty” Pennsylvania counties have contracts with the National Corrective Group, allowing it to use the counties’ “district attorney brand.”
     Lackawanna County District Attorney Andrew Jarbola – the only named DA defendant – “permits NCG to use his office, his official letterhead and his signature in communicating with individuals who have issued checks which have been dishonored,” according to the complaint.
     “NCG thereupon uses the district attorney’s identity in threatening prosecution and imprisonment, stating or implying that criminal charges have been filed and that court appearances will be required, and stating that payments are due that far exceed the amount of the dishonored check.”
     The debt collectors also tell debtors – in violation of Pennsylvania law – that they may not pay their creditors directly: they have to pay the National Corrective Group, masquerading as the district attorney, and they have to pay extra, according to the complaint.
     The class claims that Jarbola and other district attorneys have “authorized NCG to use their name, signature and letterhead to charge individuals numerous incidental fees over and above an administrative and accountability class fee. These incidental fees include late payment fees, rescheduling fees, payment/convenience fees and overpayment/handling fees.
     “Pursuant to the contract with NCG, Defendant Jarbola receives 100 percent of the administrative fees generated by NCG. NCG receives 100 percent of the class fees and incidental fees.”
     Let us pause for a moment, to let this sink in.
     I’m not a lawyer, but I know a constitutional violation when I see one.
     I’m not an expert on elephants either, but I’d know it if you dropped a dead elephant in my living room.
     After these bogus, private district attorneys browbeat and effectively extort money from debtors, with threats of jail, I wonder if they really could send them to prison? They could send them to one of the dozens of private prisons that incarcerate thousands of people all over the country.
     I’ve worked in private prisons, and I know what the private contract does – it enables both the government and the private company to duck liability for what goes on inside the walls.
     We all know what our private mercenary armies have done in Iraq.
     Remember the Blackwater guards who were charged with murdering 17 people, for no particular reason, in Baghdad’s Nisour Square? Those charges were dismissed because of government misconduct.
     That’s what a private contract does, and despite any claims you may hear to the contrary, that’s what it is supposed to do: to let both the government and the mercenaries walk.
     The U.S. Navy hires private contractors to scrub and paint ships at its San Diego base, leaving the sailors free to do – what?
     Our 535 water boys in Congress push privatization of government services because it’s supposed to be cheaper and more “efficient.” But how is it efficient to pay a private company to do what sailors would have to do anyway? It’s just another way to curry favor with campaign contributors.
     We let bankers write our banking regulations; we let hedge fund sharks write the no-rules for hedge funds; for eight years we let oil companies write our energy and environmental policies; and now we’ve made it possible for U.S. citizens to be threatened with jail by bogus, private “prosecutors,” and sent to private prisons.
     All that’s left is to let private companies set up private courts to try people – perhaps corporations could try their own employees, and punish them in their own private jails.
     They could charge advertisers for naming rights to the prisons, like we do with our sports temples … I mean stadiums.
     The system going on today in Pennsylvania resembles in many ways the system of “tax farming” under Louis XVI. French tax farmers paid off the king and then got to keep all the taxes they could collect from the people.
     Do you recall how that worked out? King Louis ended up a head shorter.

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