Legislation to increase powers of private probation firms hits snag in Atlanta

What looked like smooth sailing last month for the passage of legislation to extend the powers of private, for-profit probation companies hit a snag this week.

House Bill 837 breezed through the House committee with only a single vote in opposition, but when it reached the House floor for a vote Mon­day, amendments were added, troubles began and the bill was tabled.

Supporters can still resurrect the bill, which was put forth to counter an order by Augusta Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Craig.
On Sept. 16, Craig ruled the law does not allow private probation companies to seek the extension of misdemeanor probation sentences past the original expiration date, and that private probation firms operating in Richmond and Columbia counties – where a series of civil lawsuits have been filed against Sentinel Offender Services – are not allowed to use and collect fees for electronic monitoring.

Craig’s ruling in the pending lawsuits has been appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Sentinel and the Richmond County State Court judges contend people sentenced to misdemeanor probation terms will have no reason comply with court-ordered conditions of probation if they can avoid any possible punishment by staying out of the court’s grasp until the expiration of their original sentence. Supporters of House Bill 837 make the same point, according to coverage in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

But the civil attorneys who filed the suit, the international civil rights group Human Rights Watch and critics of the House bill contend the current practice has enabled private probation companies to make millions of dollars in fees from people who can be and are jailed because they cannot pay court and private probation company fees.

Human Rights Watch estimated that in Georgia alone, private probation companies make $40 million annually.

Human Rights Watch finds private probation practices abusive
Georgia House committee advances bill empowering for-profit probation companies
Plaintiffs fight high court's ruling in Sentinel case
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

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