Updated: Apr 5
Posted: 10:39 PM, Feb 28, 2018
Updated: 11:52 PM, Mar 21, 2018
By: Ben Hall
Tens of Thousands of people in Rutherford County are eligible for money from a court settlement involving the county's use of a private probation company. But many of those eligible do not know they can submit a claim for a share of the money. The settlement comes from a federal lawsuit filed in 2015 that claimed the county and the private probation company extorted money from poor people by threatening them with jail if they didn't pay a series of fees. Dawn Harrington has spent days standing in front of Rutherford County's probation office handing out fliers to let people know they may be entitled to money. "That's why we're going door to door and standing out here and letting people know," Harrington said before handing a flier to someone. "Here you go ma'am. Have you heard about the PCC lawsuit?" she asked. Providence Community Corrections (PCC) was a private company the county hired to oversee its misdemeanor probation cases. It operated out of the same building where Harrington has handed out fliers. Attorneys for the non-profit Civil Rights Corps sued PCC and Rutherford County in a federal, class action lawsuit in 2015. Cindy Rodriguez was one of the plaintiffs. NewsChannel 5 Investigates first interviewed Rodriguez when the lawsuit was filed. A county judge originally ordered Rodriguez to pay $578 after she admitted to a shoplifting charge. Her probation was supervised by PCC. But after paying for over a year, PCC said she still owed $512 because of compounding fees. "When you are just trying to pay something off and they keep stacking fees on top of you, it's impossible," Rodriguez said. PCC obtained an arrest warrant against Rodriguez for non-payment. But now she and as many as 29,000 other people who paid fees to PCC any time between October 2011 and October 2017 are eligible for some of a $14 million court settlement. Attorney Elizabeth Rossi has fought to end private probation across the country. "This is a landmark settlement. It's the first time we are aware of that has resulted in monetary compensation of this magnitude," Rossi said. Rutherford county has cut ties with PCC and agreed to never use a for profit probation company again. But Harrington knows there are thousands of people in Rutherford County who have no idea they are entitled to some of the settlement money. There is a website (www.PCCRutherfordSettlement.com) and a phone number (1-888-805-9120) that people can use to sign up for a claim or get more information. Fewer than 3000 people have signed up so far. The number eligible is ten times that amount. April first is the deadline.