5 people ensnared in the probation system

RELATED STORY: Critics say private probation punishes poor unfairly

SHANNON M. ELLIOTT

Shannon M. Elliott spent several weeks in jail this spring because of a drunken driving incident six years ago. The stay cost taxpayers $1,850.

When she pleaded guilty in Richmond County State Court in October 2003 to DUI, following too closely and driving without insurance, she owed a total of $1,350 in fines and surcharges. Less than a year later, when she reportedly failed to pay toward the fines, failed to report to probation, failed to attend a driving program and failed to undergo an evaluation for an interlock device for her vehicle, Ms. Elliott owed $2,569 in fines, surcharges and probation fees.

She was arrested in February 2006, and her probation was revoked for three years, four months and 24 days. She was ordered to spend that time in jail.

The next month, Ms. Elliott, with the help of an attorney, got another chance in court. Judge David Watkins ordered her release from jail and put her back on probation on the condition that she pay $406 in restitution and agree to electronic monitoring until she could get into a drug rehab program.

A year later, her probation officer filed another warrant for Ms. Elliott's arrest, alleging she had violated basically every condition of her probation and owed $2,913.

On May 27, Judge Watkins ruled that Ms. Elliott had violated probation again. He sentenced her to one month and 20 days in jail. Because of the time she had already spent in jail, Ms. Elliott was released and her probation has been terminated.

JOSEPH MCCORKLE

In less than a year, the money Joseph McCorkle owed for speeding and driving with an expired driver's license doubled, and he was looking at two years and 26 days in jail.

Mr. McCorkle, 33, pleaded guilty in Richmond County State Court on June 13, 2008. He was sentenced to 24 months' probation and ordered to pay $448 in fines and surcharges. His probation supervision fee was set at $44 a month.

Mr. McCorkle saw a probation officer for the only time on June 25, 2008, which was one of the reasons cited for a request for his arrest in March. Mr. McCorkle also now owed $883 in fines, surcharges and probation fees.

He was arrested on April 29 and the next day Judge Richard Slaby signed an order that revoked his probation for two years and 26 days unless Mr. McCorkle came up with the $883.

If he would pay, the judge would terminate the remainder of his probation sentence.

Mr. McCorkle spent more than a month in jail before he was able to get the money paid. In the meantime, his jail term cost county taxpayers $1,900.

RHONDA NEAL-SHIELDS

Rhonda Neal-Shields could get out of jail today, if she had money and a home phone. Because she has neither, she has sat in the Richmond County jail since June 23, costing county taxpayers more than $6,000.

Ms. Neal-Shields and her husband have gotten into fights a number of times, leading to domestic violence charges four times since March 2008. Her arrest on June 22 occurred because she scratched her husband's face, Ms. Neal-Shields wrote.

This last time, she pleaded guilty in Richmond County State Court and received the sentence she has received in the past -- 12 months' probation and $405 in fines and surcharges. This time, however, Judge David Watkins also ordered SCRAM (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor), an alcohol monitoring device, according to the product's company Web site.

Before she can get out of jail, she must pay the start-up cost for the SCRAM, $208. She can't get back in court to tell the judge that she doesn't have the money, so she sits in jail. Her public defender attorney cannot help her because his services ended when she was sentenced on June 23.

When and if she gets out, her probation fee on top of what she owes the court will be $44 every month. Her latest 12-month probation sentence runs consecutively to the other sentences, so unless or until she pays all she owes, and completes the SCRAM program successfully, she remains on probation for four years.

CHARLIE F. BARKER

Charlie F. Barker has spent more days in the Richmond County jail for traffic violations than most people accused of committing felonies.

His trouble started in October 2003, when he admitted he ran a red light and drove without a driver's license. It meant two years' probation and $825 in fines and surcharges and a monthly probation fee.

In April 2004 in Richmond County State Court, he admitted he made an improper turn and was driving without a license. He got two more years' probation, another $1,325 in fines and surcharges, and another monthly probation fee.

Then he got caught stealing a $10 item in August 2004. He got another year of probation, another $405 and another $39 monthly probation fee.

Mr. Barker made payments, but after a year on probation he still owed $1,233, according to court documents. Two years later, Mr. Barker's debt to the court and to probation services had grown to $2,394.

Over and over, Mr. Barker has been locked up in the county jail when probation officers obtained nonbondable warrants for his arrest because he allegedly did not pay the money he owed and did not report to his probation officer. His probation has been revoked and modified several times. Over and over it was: pay $400 or spend four months in jail; pay $200 or spend two months in jail; do 70 hours of community service and get credit for more than $400 in fines; $500 or five months in jail; pay $1,461 and probation will be terminated; or serve one year and nine days in jail.

Five years after Mr. Barker first got into legal trouble, he is still on probation and still owes money. Most recently, Mr. Barker was arrested on April 29 for not paying and not reporting to his probation officer. Once again, he was given the option to pay $400 or serve four months in jail.

Mr. Barker did the jail time in two months because the jail gives 2-for-1-day jail credit.

The cost to county taxpayers for Mr. Barker's latest jail term: an estimated $3,000.

HEATHER HENDERSON

Heather Henderson's father has been beside himself for months since she was sent to jail for violating probation.

It's not that he contests the fact she wasn't doing what she was supposed to do on probation, or that some time in jail could make her see the light, Roger Altman said. It's what might happen once Ms. Henderson is released from jail that causes him to wake at 3 a.m. nearly every day and pace the floors, he said.

Ms. Henderson, 31, was sentenced in Richmond County State Court to 24 months' probation and fined $1,350 in March for two counts misdemeanor shoplifting. She was supposed to get into a drug rehab program. When that didn't happen, she was arrested and in July Judge David Watkins revoked her probation for one year. The judge ordered electronic monitoring once she is released back to probation.

And that -- the electronic monitoring -- is the problem, Mr. Altman said. His daughter has no job, no family and no home in Augusta. How, he asks, can she comply with electronic monitoring, which requires a home, a land-line telephone, start-up fees and extra monthly fees?

Because she would be homeless in Augusta, Mr. Altman repeatedly called Sentinel Offender Services, the clerk's office, the judge's office -- everyone he could think of, he said. "They run you around like a dog chasing his tail." What he wants to request is for Ms. Henderson's probation to be transferred to the Jesup area of coastal south Georgia once she is released from jail. That way he and his wife can help her with a place to live and a chance to make it through the rest of the probation sentence, Mr. Altman said.

The latest report Mr. Altman has is that only Judge Watkins can order Ms. Henderson's probation transferred to south Georgia. But her case is not scheduled to go back to court again. An attorney can ask the judge for a hearing, but Ms. Henderson didn't qualify for a public defender, and after $600 phone bills and hundreds of dollars spent on trips back and forth to Augusta, Mr. Altman doesn't have the money right now to hire an attorney.

The fear that his daughter will be released from jail only to be arrested for violating probation is tearing him up, Mr. Altman said. "It's like if they want you in jail you're going to jail."

So far, Ms. Henderson's jail stay has cost county taxpayers $6,250.