Sentinel ordered back to court over electronic monitoring

A judge has ordered Sentinel Offender Services to attend a hearing Thursday to explain if and why it has ignored a court order that said private probation companies are prohibited by law to conduct electronic monitoring.

Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Craig issued the order Monday after plaintiff’s attorney John B. Long filed a motion seeking the judge’s clarification of Craig’s Sept. 16 ruling in more than a dozen civil lawsuits filed against Sentinel.

Meanwhile, Sentinel and private attorneys hired by the Richmond County State Court judges have filed motions insisting Craig’s ruling will destroy the court that presides over misdemeanor criminal offenses.

According to the brief filed on behalf of the State Court judges, Craig had no authority to issue any rulings in the civil lawsuits and that his decision is illogical and without any binding authority.

“To say the least, this results in a bizarre, unworkable and illogical scenario,” attorneys James Wall and James Ellison wrote.

In his Sept. 16 order, Craig ordered the suspension of two specific practices that he determined were reserved for state probation officers employed by the Department of Corrections: electronic monitoring, and the issuance of orders that suspended misdemeanor sentences when a probation violation warrant is signed. The practice had led to many cases of people arrested years after their probation sentences should have expired, which Craig deemed a clear violation of due process.

Craig also ordered Sentinel to refund the fees charged to people under those conditions.

The judge wrote in his Sept. 16 order that he would not consider suspending his order until Sentinel appealed his ruling, and on Monday Sentinel filed a motion to do so.

“The administration of justice in Augusta will be devastated if these injunctions are not stayed,” Sentinel’s motion begins.

Craig addressed the challenge of balancing the plaintiff’s interest with the administration of the sheriff’s and State Court judge’s constitutional duties. But, Craig wrote: “This court has rejected the suggestion that the matter of class action certification should be first decided and subject to appellate review ...

“This court finds it repugnant to the concepts of due process and sound jurisprudence that it should choose between delay in the resolution of potentially illegal or unconstitutional incarceration of any citizen, and interference with the orderly administration of constitutional duties of a court, its duly elected judges, or by duly elected sheriffs.”

Sentinel contends Craig erred in ruling that private probation companies could not conduct electronic monitoring. One probationary service is no different than all of the others duties granted by the state law. In effect, Sentinel’s legal team contends, Craig has stripped Sentinel and therefore the Richmond County State Court judges of the ability to sentence anyone to probation.

Either the judges must send every misdemeanor offender to jail or let them go unpunished and unsupervised, according to Sentinel.

“Finally, unless (Sentinel’s motion) is granted pending appeal, the State Court, victims of crime, and other critical governmental entities and funds will lose significant revenue from court-ordered fines and restitution.”

According to Long’s motion, a Sentinel employee stated in Richmond County State Court recently that Craig’s order does not apply to electronic monitoring of alcohol use, and that hundreds of people convicted of misdemeanor offenses, which includes nearly all traffic offenses in Georgia, are still shackled by the ankle monitors. The motion further alleges that individuals have gone to Sentinel to have the devices removed but Sentinel has refused.

The plaintiff’s motion also contends that at least three people remain in the county jail because they have not paid the start-up fees for electronic monitoring.

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