Plaintiffs fight high court's ruling in Sentinel case

 

Those suing the private probation firm Sentinel Offender Services have begun filing motions asking the Georgia Supreme Court to reconsider its order last month that freed the Rich­mond County State Court to continue business as usual.

The state high court on Oct. 24 granted Sentinel’s petition that sought to set aside restrictions that Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Craig set to prohibit what he determined were illegal practices
in misdemeanor probation cases supervised by private, for-profit companies.

Craig ruled that state law allows state probation officers to perform only certain functions. Specifically, he ruled that probation terms supervised by private companies could not be extended past the
original sentence, and that electronic monitoring was not allowed in cases supervised by such companies.

Craig expressed concern that basic due process was denied in cases in which years would pass between Sen­tinel obtaining a probation violation warrant and the defendant getting a chance to defend himself.

“Sentinel has initiated over 5,000 arrest warrants against unsuspecting citizens who have been given no notice of their existence,” wrote the plaintiffs’ attorney, John Long. “Staying (Craig’s) order will have the effect of placing all of these people at risk for illegal detention and incarceration, and producing profits for Sentinel to which it is not legally entitled.”

The Supreme Court granted Sen­ti­nel’s request for an emergency act to stop Craig’s order, which the company and the Richmond Coun­ty State Court judges said had caused chaos and left the judges without authority to put anyone on probation.

The plaintiffs’ motions assert that any problem enforcing the order of the State Court judges has been caused by Sentinel’s actions or inactions. Long contends that Sentinel and the judges have known of the problems since civil litigation began in 2008 when an indigent woman pleaded guilty – without the advice of an attorney – to a crime she didn’t commit.

“Unfortunately, the State Court and Sentinel ignored this court’s decision and continued business as usual,” the plaintiffs’ motion stated.

Two years after Lisa Harrelson’s conviction was voided for constitutional violations, a disabled veteran living on $243 a month was jailed for not paying Sentinel’s $186 supervision fees.

The judge gave Hills McGee the option of paying Sentinel $186 or spending two months in jail, which would cost taxpayers about $3,000. McGee’s conviction also was voided for constitutional violations.

“The only emergency for Sen­ti­nel is that Judge Craig’s orders have stifled its income in that it can no longer keep individuals on misdemeanor probation for years after their sentences have terminated, and that it cannot generate fees from electronic monitoring for which has no fixed rate, no provision for waiving fees for indigents and no basis for charging under the private probation statute,” the motion stated.

The Supreme Court justices are not bound by any time limit to rule on the plaintiffs’ motions.

Oral arguments in the case are tentatively set for February.

Georgia high court grants Sentinel request
Sentinel Offender Services company can appeal but judge's earlier rulings remain intact
Sentinel ordered back to court over electronic monitoring
Sentinel Offender Services must repay people held on probation illegally
Sentinel employee says warrant procedures not always followed

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