Faced with a barrage of lawsuits and judges’ reluctance to sign a contract, the private probation company Sentinel Offender Services cut all ties with Superior Court this week.
On Thursday, the company’s chief business development officer, Mark Contestabile, announced Sentinel’s departure in a statement released through Phil Kent Consulting.
“Sentinel provided a new contract for services to the Court for consideration and asked to receive signature as soon as possible. Because the Court has not yet signed the new contract, and because of circumstances arising from the barrage of lawsuits filed by Jack Long, Sentinel was left with no choice but to suspend its operations in the Superior Courts of Richmond and Columbia County as of December 19, 2012,” the statement said.
Long responded Thursday that it seems apparent Sentinel acknowledges that its employees had no authority to obtain arrest warrants because it had no contract.
Earlier this week, Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet told The Augusta Chronicle that he recently asked Sentinel and two other private probation companies to submit proposals, as is often done when a government seeks bids.
Sentinel provided probation services for the Superior Court for people convicted of misdemeanor charges for the past 12 years.
In the statement, Contestabile referred to the company’s request for an updated contract, but no contract with Sentinel appears to have been signed by either county’s government, according to a search of public records.
A series of civil lawsuits filed by Long against Sentinel in recent weeks contends that the company lacks legal authority to operate in Columbia County because there isn’t a contract. The suits say that Sentinel employees have had probationers arrested and jailed on unconstitutional grounds.
Although the state provides probation services for those convicted of felony offenses, the law was changed in 2001 to turn over the responsibility for misdemeanor probation services to local governments. The law lays out how a local government can do that by creating its own probation office or by hiring a private company.
Overstreet said this week that he also intends to talk with county leaders about the possibility of setting up internal probation offices.
Long first challenged the concept of private probation services in 2008. Though the suit was successful for the plaintiff, the Georgia courts didn’t rule on the constitutionality of a private, for-profit entity performing a judicial function. Long raised the issue again in a case pending before the federal appeals court in Atlanta.
In the recent lawsuits in Richmond and Columbia courts, the constitutionality of the use of private probation is challenged again.