A temporary restraining order signed last week possibly saved Thomas J. Barrett another trip to jail on a warrant from Sentinel Offender Services.
Attorney John Long obtained the order after filing a 10th civil court petition involving the private probation company.
According to Barrett’s petition, he feared he would be jailed Wednesday because he had to report to his Sentinel probation officer and did not have money to pay his fine and fees.
Barrett is on probation for a Richmond County State Court shoplifting conviction. He pleaded no contest to the charge July 3 for stealing a $2 can of beer, according to the petition. His sentence included a fine and a monthly probation fee.
Sentinel has a contract with Richmond County State Court to provide probation services for defendants convicted of misdemeanors.
Barrett’s petition seeks to void the contract because it guarantees Sentinel probation fees. State and federal law, the petition contends, prohibit judges from imposing fines and fees without a finding that the person is capable of paying them.
Earlier this month, Barrett’s probation officer obtained a warrant for his arrest for alleged probation violations, including failure to make payments.
Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Craig signed the temporary restraining order, which remains in effect until at least a March 8 hearing to determine whether Barrett’s petition should be granted.
Barrett has to make monthly payments to pay off the fine and surcharges of $270. In addition to the regular probation fee, Barrett also has to pay for electronic monitoring every month.
Judge David D. Watkins ordered electronic monitoring for six months and ordered Barrett to pay the startup fee of $80 before he could be released from jail.
According to the petition, Barrett spent nearly three months in jail before he could raise the money for the fee in September.
Sentinel employee John Beckman obtained the first warrant for Barrett’s arrest weeks later, asserting that Barrett hadn’t complied with court-ordered electronic monitoring of blood-alcohol levels. However, the original order called for electronic location monitoring. In November, Watkins declined to revoke Barrett’s probation, but he ordered the blood-alcohol monitoring.
Sentinel charges Richmond County State Court probationers a $6 daily fee for regular electronic monitoring and a $12 daily fee for blood-alcohol monitoring.
According to the petition, Sentinel charges the federal court less than half the amount people sentenced to electronic monitoring pay in Augusta. And Sentinel charges a correctional agency in Indiana less than half of what local probationers pay for SCRAM.
“That the profit that could be earned from the electronic monitoring is substantial and this profit motive makes a mockery of the judicial system,” Long wrote in the petition.
Barrett, the petition states, relies on public housing and receives food stamps. He sells his plasma to pay his fine and fees, the petition contends.
The petition seeks to void Barrett’s shoplifting conviction and declare the use of private probation companies unconstitutional.
Craig is assigned all civil rights cases involving Sentinel since being randomly assigned to preside over the first civil lawsuit.
After hearing evidence in four prior habeas petitions – a writ that challenges the constitutionality of a person’s incarceration – Craig voided the original convictions, ruling they had not been properly advised of their constitutional rights in State Court.