After a fourth lawsuit was filed against the private probation firm Sentinel Offender Services, a judge signed an order Friday that prevents the company from jailing people who are serving misdemeanor probation sentences imposed in Columbia County Superior Court.
Sentinel consented to the order signed by Judge Daniel J. Craig, who has been assigned to preside over all civil lawsuits pending against Sentinel. The latest case, like the others, alleges illegal arrest and incarceration. Pamela L. Tennille’s lawsuit adds to the claims that Sentinel is acting illegally as a probation service in Columbia County because it doesn’t have a contract with the county commission, as required by Georgia law.
Tennille was sentenced May 16 to 12 months’ probation and fined $200 for disorderly conduct, court records show. In addition to the fine, Tennille was required to pay $70 for surcharges and a $39 monthly probation fee to Sentinel.
According to Sentinel receipts filed with Tennille’s lawsuit, she made monthly payments to Sentinel and paid off the court fine and surcharges Sept. 17.
In October, Tennille’s probation officer charged not only Sentinel’s $39 monthly fee but also $25 for a drug test. According to court records, however, the judge never ordered drug tests for Tennille as a condition of her probation.
By imposing the drug tests, Sentinel increased its own income, the suit contends. The lawsuit further alleges that as a private, for-profit company, Sentinel rewards employees with bonuses for increasing company income.
According to court records, Sentinel probation officer Barbara Christine filed a petition presented to Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet that accused Tennille of violating her probation by failing to report to her probation officer and testing positive on the drug screening.
She was arrested and released Dec. 5, but was ordered to report to the Sentinel office the next day or face another arrest.
Attorney John Long filed Tennille’s lawsuit and three other suits against Sentinel, including a class-action lawsuit in Columbia County Superior Court on behalf of everyone sentenced to misdemeanor probation while Sentinel has operated without a contract with the county.