Government-run probation program hits snag

Williams

Barely a year old, the new Richmond County Probation Office has hit another snag that is threatening the structure of the office.

 

Commissioner Marion Williams said based on ongoing issues between probation office staff and incoming Chief State Court Judge David Watkins, he’s proposing to move it out from under the court system altogether.

“That means bringing it under the commission,” said Williams, who put a request on Tuesday’s regular commission meeting agenda. “It ought to be in front of the administrator,” who reports to the commission, he said.

Watkins, who declined to comment, becomes chief state court judge upon the Monday retirement date of Chief State Court Judge Richard Slaby, who is credited with developing the current program.

The chief state court judge, chief magistrate court judge, city administrator and city Public Safety committee chair make up the probation services advisory board that governs operations of the office, according to the order creating the probation program.

Chief Probation Officer Marie Boulton, however, serves at the pleasure of the chief state court judge, according to the order.

Williams said his colleagues are aware of his agenda item and acknowledged that commissioners “are not experts” in supervising probationers and collecting fines, but said something has to be done to resolve the conflict.

“I thought everything was going good,” Williams said of the 13-month old program. “Now everybody is fighting about power. Somebody’s got to step in and say something.”

Commissioner Dennis Williams, who is the public safety chairman, said his colleague may be reacting to unconfirmed facts.

“There needs to be a lot more discussion before it’s made an issue,” said Williams, who added that the program seemed to be running smoothly.

Augusta’s in-house probation program was created and opened in July 2016 as its former private provider, Sentinel Offender Services, contended with numerous lawsuits alleging its staffers had probationers jailed for not paying Sentinel’s supervision fees.

A statewide audit later found widespread abuse by private probation companies, which often had little or no oversight by judges who contracted their services.

The Augusta program hit a hurdle last year after several new hires were unable to complete Georgia law enforcement certification, a requirement in the order that was not required of Sentinel staff. Slaby fired a few for not obtaining the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training certification they needed to make arrests. Boulton and several completed the POST program, which costs $4,000 or more per officer.

In May, the office employed 19 workers.

 

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

 

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