An Evans-based probation services firm on Monday announced it has acquired Sentinel Offender Services’ statewide operations, effectively ending the embattled California company’s misdemeanor probation business in Georgia.
CSRA Probation Services said it has acquired Sentinel’s 11 Georgia offices and its more than 50 contracts to provide probation supervision services to state and local courts. Approximately 80 Sentinel employees are being transferred to the new company.
Financial terms of the deal, which closed Feb. 20, were not disclosed.
In an interview Monday, CSRA Probation President Mike Popplewell described the agreed upon price as fair for both parties.
“I thought it was favorable terms for me and it still meets their goals,” said Popplewell, an Augusta native who founded the company in 1997.
The acquisition almost doubles the size of CSRA Probation, which has grown in recent years through acquisitions. In 2010 the firm acquired the Middle Georgia operations of Georgia Corrections Corporation, and in 2016 it purchased Conyers, Ga.-based Alliance Corrections Services and Providence Community Corrections, a Virginia-company that did business as Pathways Community Corrections.
With the Sentinel acquisition, CSRA Probation will serve more than 150 courts in 37 offices statewide.
A change in state law in the early 1990s allowed private companies to supervise Georgia’s misdemeanor probationers through contracts with courts. The private probation industry has come under fire in recent years over what critics call revenue-boosting predatory practices that keep offenders trapped in a cycle of fees and fines, and some indigent probationers have been incarcerated simply because of their inability to pay.
Sentinel, a target of several civil rights lawsuits involving local probationers, had been losing court contracts statewide, including local contracts with magistrate and superior courts. Irvine, Calif.-based Sentinel did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Popplewell said the company approached him and “basically said they were getting out of the probation business.”
“We knew we could do a good job and get past all of their problems,” he said.
Popplewell said the sale involves only the company’s Georgia probation management operations, not the electronic monitoring services it provides in other states. He said CSRA Probation will incur none of Sentinel’s litigation liabilities.
Popplewell, who started his career as a state probation officer in 1980, said his company has managed to avoid the problems of his competitors because he considers probationers to be “customers” worthy of customer service.
“It’s a philosophical thing,” he said. “If you take care of the customers, the revenue will take care of itself. You don’t have to threaten people or shake them down in order to get money.”
He said the company has a 94 percent satisfaction rate among the probationers it supervises based on a customer survey he created two years ago. He said the company also has developed a smartphone app that lets low-risk probationers – and those without transportation or the ability to take off work – make payments and check in with their probation officer electronically.
“At the end of the day, our definition of success is somebody going through probation without going to jail,” he said.
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