FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 14, 2013
CONTACT: Meredith Curtis, ACLU of Maryland, 410-889-8555, firstname.lastname@example.org
BALTIMORE - Concerned that state prosecutors are getting paid to allow private companies to issue official threats of prosecution, which pressure individuals into paying those companies "program fees" to avoid criminal charges, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland and national ACLU have filed public records requests seeking details about these so-called "private prosecution programs." The Maryland Public Information Act request was sent to state's attorneys in 12 Maryland counties who appear to have contracts with CorrectiveSolutions to operate such programs.
"Are district attorneys 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?" said David Rocah, staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland. "State's Attorneys need to provide full details about any such programs in Maryland, because they raise serious legal questions."
The ACLU is concerned about an apparently growing national trend of local prosecutors striking deals with private companies that allow the companies to threaten criminal prosecution using prosecutors' official letterhead, targeting alleged bad check writing, for instance, 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.
"Conditioning criminal prosecution on a person's ability to pay a fee to private companies raises serious constitutional concerns," said Larry Schwartztol, an attorney with the ACLU's national office. "Prosecutors' offices should not be outsourcing their responsibility to ensure that fundamental rights are protected."
According to information available on CorrectiveSolutions' website, the Maryland counties that appear to have contracts with the company are the following: Anne Arundel, Baltimore County, Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Prince George's, Queen Anne's, Talbot, and Washington.