ACLU Says Study Needed for "Prosecution for Profit" Companies

February 21, 2013

CONTACT: Meredith Curtis, Communications Director, 410-889-8555; media@aclu-md.org 

Sara Love, Public Policy Director, 703-963-2710; love@aclu-md.org 

 

ANNAPOLIS - On February 21, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland will testify before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in favor of Senate Bill 793, which would establish a task force to study the use of private diversion programs. The bill seeks to study a growing trend, both in Maryland and around the country, of allowing private, for-profit companies to threaten criminal prosecution using prosecutors' official letterhead, targeting offenses such as alleged bad check writing, even if prosecutors have not conducted any meaningful review of the allegations.  The letters tell recipients that they can avoid prosecution by paying hundreds of dollars to attend "financial accountability" classes offered by the private companies.  In exchange, the prosecutor's office gets a share of the money raised from the classes' attendance fees.

 

These programs raise many troubling questions, such as whether the local prosecutor is actually investigating the claims that a crime has occurred, the adequacy of the proof of criminal violations, the degree of supervision by prosecutorial staff, the conflict of interest when investigations are conducted by companies with a financial stake in the outcome, the financial benefits to prosecutors' offices that get a portion of the program fees, and the constitutional rights of individuals subjected to these practices.

 

Statement of David Rocah, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Maryland: "The ACLU is questioning whether district attorneys are renting out their letterhead and authority to for-profit companies that frighten possibly innocent people to pay fees and attend pricey classes with threats of criminal prosecution. The task force bill to study these programs in Maryland is necessary because turning over core prosecutorial functions to private companies raises serious legal questions." 

 

WHAT: Hearing in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in support of SB 793.

 

WHO:  David Rocah, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Maryland. Rocah will be available for media interviews.

 

WHEN: Wednesday, February 21, 2013; hearing begins at 1 PM. 

 

WHERE: Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, Miller Senate Office Building, 11 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD.

 

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