In an unusual mix of religion and justice, of church and court, the Salvation Army has for decades had a lock on handling misdemeanor probation in Florida’s Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, with the blessing of judges, reports the St. Petersburg Times. Hillsborough probationers ponied up $3.2 million in supervision fees to the Salvation Army last year. Pinellas probationers paid $2.4 million.
For more than two decades, the tax-exempt Salvation Army has kept those contracts without private companies getting a chance to offer competing bids — though some have tried. Elsewhere in Florida, in one county, a judge did not like the mix of church and state, and so the county went with a private company instead. Critics point out that the Salvation Army pays itself first — even before victims get a shot at restitution. How did an organization best known for bell-ringers, donated clothes and a hand up for the hurting — and more recently, for having a powerful local politician on its payroll — end up with no-bid, tax-free government contracts to supervise people on probation? The newspaper tells the story.