The number of people on probation sentences in Georgia helped generate $10 million for private probation companies in a single quarter, with the one handling cases in Richmond County leading the way.
The state’s Department of Community Supervision released the numbers for each of the state’s 81 companies, confirming the estimated total revenue for the for-profit companies at more than $40 million a year.
The state’s top earning firm in the most recent quarter was Sentinel Offender Services, the private probation firm that holds the contract to provide services for Richmond County State Court.
Sentinel – which also faces a number of civil rights lawsuits in Richmond and Columbia counties and elsewhere in the state and country – earned just over $1.67 million in regular supervision fees, nearly three times more than the second highest earning private probation company in Georgia, according to the quarterly earnings report.
Sentinel also collected from probationers $97,983 in electronic monitoring fees and $111,935 in drug and alcohol screens.
Sentinel collected nearly half of all the electronic monitoring fees in the state and nearly a third of all money paid for drug and alcohol screens.
That surprised Richmond County State Court Chief Judge Richard Slaby. He estimated he only ordered electronic monitoring for five or six people last year. According to his most recent report from Sentinel, in March there were 106 Richmond County probationers on electronic monitoring.
Slaby disputed Sentinel’s report to the state that it did not supervise anyone on “pay only” probation in Georgia. Although he didn’t have the exact number of cases currently, in Richmond County, it’s common, he said.
“We have a lot of pay-only cases,” Slaby said.
If someone has a traffic ticket that he cannot pay for either before nor on his court date, he is put on probation. When the state rewrote the law governing probation last year, it restricted pay-only probation period to three months.
Slaby said most traffic offenses are pay-only unless it’s a case that requires something in addition to a fines, such as driving under the influence, which requires a safe-driving class. Even in those cases, once a probationer completes the requirements he is to be placed on unsupervised probation and he no longer pays a monthly fee to Sentinel, Slaby said.
After several years of controversy over the use of private probation services, Richmond County commissioners approved the establishment of a county-operated probation department for State and Magistrate courts. Slaby said job listings have just gone out for probation officers and the transition from Sentinel to an in-house probation office is set for June 30.