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Georgia Legislature passes private probation bill

Thursday, March 20, 2014 8:15 PM
Last updated Friday, March 21, 2014 1:33 AM
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Both houses of the Geor­gia General Assembly have now voted in favor of a bill that empowers for-profit private probation companies and conceals from the public information on how much probationers pay local governments and the companies and even the number of people on probation.



Efforts by some legislators to institute what they saw as safeguards and accountability provisions were stripped from the bill once it moved to the Senate’s non-civil judiciary committee, led by Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro. The lawyer is one candidate on a short list to fill the State Court judgeship in Burke County – a court that contracts with a private probation company.

With little debate, the House voted 105-62 on Thurs­day to accept the bill as altered. The Senate passed the bill Tuesday.

The push to change the state statute governing local governments’ ability to hire private probation companies to supervise people convicted of misdemeanors – which includes nearly all traffic offenses in Georgia – began last year as civil lawsuits were filed in Richmond and Columbia counties challenging the constitutionality of private entities performing what amounts to a judicial function.

On Sept. 16, Augusta Judi­cial Circuit Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Craig granted class-action status to people who sued Sentinel Offender Ser­vices alleging the company caused false arrests and incarceration.

Craig found that Georgia law did not give private probation companies the same powers as state probation officers who supervise people convicted of felonies. He ruled that the private firms could not supervise electronic monitoring services, nor could they seek the extension of misdemeanor probation sentences beyond the original expiration date.

The bill passed this week directly addresses those points: Misdemeanor probation sentences can be extended indefinitely, and private probation companies can supervise a variety of electronic monitoring and collect additional fees.

The bill, if it becomes law, makes clear that if a judge imposes probation for a misdemeanor, he must require the payment of probation fees to the private companies, and a probationer can be found in violation and incarcerated if those fees aren’t paid.

The bill gives the judge the ability to waive supervision fees or require community service instead if the judge finds undue financial hardship at the time of sentencing or any time during the probationary period.

If a probationer is found in violation, and the judge revokes the rest of his sentence, no more money will be owed. However, if he is revoked for only part of the sentence, all of the money is due in full after his release from jail unless the judge waives or reduces the amounts.

An e-mail to the Private Probation Association of Geor­gia seeking comment on the legislation was not returned Thursday.

Attorney Sarah Geraghty, writing on behalf of the South­ern Center for Human Rights, called the bill “a gift to the private probation industry.”

“It further expands the reach of private probation companies, while simultaneously barring the media and public from access to even the most basic information,” Geraghty wrote. “I can think of no rational reason to hide such information from members of the public whose tax dollars fund the courts of this state.”

The bill gives the chief judge or governing body the right to see such information, but it specifically exempts that information from the Open Records law.

Augusta attorney Jack Long, who spearheaded the lawsuits challenging private probation, said by e-mail that the legislation will not deter the pending litigation. Craig’s rulings are on appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court. Long agreed with Geraghty that the sealing of information about private probation is detrimental to the public interest.

According to the Private Probation Association of Georgia, in the last quarter of 2012 more than 254,000 people were serving misdemeanor probation terms.

Sentinel’s profit for one month in 2012 was more than $1.8 million. Private probation companies derive income from the fees paid by probationers.

Walter Jones of Morris News Service contributed to this story.

HOW THEY VOTED

How local legislators voted on the private probation measure, which passed the Senate 35-17 and the House 105-62:

Senate (35-17, 4 excused)

Hardie Davis, D-Augusta ... N

Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro ... Y

Bill Jackson, R-Appling ... N

House (105-62, 10 not voting, 3 excused)

Barry Fleming, R-Harlem ... N

Ben Harbin, R-Evans ... N

Barbara Sims, R-Augusta ... Excused

Wayne Howard, D-Augusta ... N

Earnest Smith, D-Augusta ... N

Gloria Frazier, D-Hephzibah ... N

Brian Prince, D-Augusta ... N

Mack Jackson, D-Sandersville ... Y

Comments (14) Add comment
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corgimom
34239
Points
corgimom 03/20/14 - 10:07 pm
2
0
If a probationer is found in

If a probationer is found in violation, and the judge revokes the rest of his sentence, no more money will be owed. However, if he is revoked for only part of the sentence, all of the money is due in full after his release from jail unless the judge waives or reduces the amounts.

I don't understand this paragraph. People are always revoked for part of their sentence, they never are revoked on the first day of sentencing. What is this really trying to say?

dichotomy
34499
Points
dichotomy 03/20/14 - 10:34 pm
9
0
I'm sorry but this is a bad

I'm sorry but this is a bad piece of legislation and I would prefer Deal veto it. I know that won't happen but this is horrible....AND the public cannot even have access to the information. There must have been a lot of money and "skybox" tickets passed around to get this one sided anti-civil rights piece of crap passed. You might as well make these private probation companies official members of the SWAT team and give the blanket arrest warrants. This thing is just wrong.

Governor Deal....please veto this legislation. NO for profit company should have this much power over misdemeanor offenders.

Old Vetern
73
Points
Old Vetern 03/20/14 - 10:42 pm
7
0
Sorry bunch of StateSenators

They never should of blocked access to the probation company records, and, how many they are monitoring. Must of been some healthy pay-offs. The governor needs to veto this law.

Little Lamb
47042
Points
Little Lamb 03/20/14 - 10:57 pm
7
0
Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

This bill is so wrong on so many levels. Superior Court Judge Danny Craig is opposed to this, and I hope he prevails on Gov. Deal to veto this bill. If a person is put on probation, the state should pay for the probation services. Otherwise, we have a debtor’s prison situation again — that is something that was outlawed here in the late 1700s.

Marinerman1
5093
Points
Marinerman1 03/20/14 - 11:28 pm
7
0
To: Senator Jesse Stone

You are wrong. Governor Deal will get an email from me. This IS a bad piece of legislation. I can't believe that Stone voted for it.

Truth Matters
7217
Points
Truth Matters 03/21/14 - 07:11 am
7
0
Heard Jesse Stone speak at a

Heard Jesse Stone speak at a child advocacy group about a year ago and formed a different impression of him. I am disappointed. How long will the public tolerate lawmakers who clearly work for the interest of everyone but the people they SHOULD represent?

Everyone should "blow up" the switch board by calling the governor's office urging him to veto this bill. And while you are at it, contact the legislators who voted "no" and thank them.

GiantsAllDay
9865
Points
GiantsAllDay 03/21/14 - 08:15 am
7
0
I've voiced my opinion on

I've voiced my opinion on private probation companies before. The simple truth is the lobbyists are more powerful than any of us. The people who have sworn to represent us have sold their souls for a mess of pottage.

itsanotherday1
45517
Points
itsanotherday1 03/21/14 - 08:55 am
6
0
Glad to see that most of our

Glad to see that most of our area legislators voted no. This not a partisan issue; it is one of common sense and liberty.

bfnickel
20
Points
bfnickel 03/21/14 - 11:53 am
3
0
Please go to Governor Deal '

Please go to Governor Deal ' s website and fill the email, or call. Please tell him to veto this thoughtless piece of legislation. These services are fly by night robbers. Our communities need to handle locally rather entertaining these scams. Lawsuits galore for Ga.

dichotomy
34499
Points
dichotomy 03/21/14 - 12:32 pm
1
0
Everyone should be calling

Everyone should be calling and emailing Governor Deal and asking him to veto the Private Probation Company legislation

http://gov.georgia.gov/webform/contact-governor-domestic-form

Phone:
404-656-1776

specsta
6610
Points
specsta 03/21/14 - 02:26 pm
3
0
Bought and Sold To The Highest Bidder

It is really a sad day when our legislators are owned by lobbyists and corporations, serving the bidding of their masters.

No citizen ever asked for a law granting more power to for-profit probation companies law to be enacted; yet a group of lawmakers took it upon themselves to support a heinous bill, one that will entrap Georgia citizens in a nightmare. Some simply for a traffic offense!

This is the problem - lobbyists and corporations with their deep pockets have the gall to dictate what our government should be and do, and when lawmakers like Jesse Stone and his cabal of supporters jump when told, all citizens suffer.

Gov. Deal must veto this bill.

Gage Creed
17891
Points
Gage Creed 03/21/14 - 07:29 pm
0
0
It's not often I can agree

It's not often I can agree with specsta... this is the picture perfect anomaly...

No transparency on these issues? If it's such a great deal... why will it not stand the light of day?

jjohnson
20
Points
jjohnson 03/28/14 - 11:40 am
0
0
All of you are so wrong in

All of you are so wrong in your thinking that it is almost of waste of time to educate you about the criminal justice system. Probation does not decide on the amount of money a person pays. The probation company does not decide how much money they charge probationers. The probation company has a contract that is approved by the Chief Judge of each court and is approved by the governing authority. These authorities and not the misinformed or uneducated get to decide if the probation company is abiding within the perameters of the legal system. Your attack on law abiding citizens, the employees of these probation companies, to protect those who at times continue to break the law is appalling. Where is the personal accountability for those who continue to break the law? Last time I checked probation is last to see these people in the criminal justice system. The citizens have the choice to abide by the laws of the land, not come into contact with law enforcement, come prepared for court, do whatever it takes to make sure all financial resources have been tapped, and then prove "inability". Do an open records request and see how many warrants have a Judge's signature. it should be 100%, because Judges issue warrants. Do another open records request for any of these probationers and find out if they were just taken back for fees. I bet 100% were not and that puts holes in every argument made. If your argument is that probation locks people up to get their money, then their should probably be a lot more people in jail. Keep this in mind, a person incarcerated does not pay money to anyone. I person that spends their entire time in jail, no longer owes any money if they served the remaining sentence. Their probated sentence would no longer have a financial obligation, so the money would be remitted and all remaining money would be cleared.

jjohnson
20
Points
jjohnson 03/28/14 - 11:49 am
0
0
One other point, working with

One other point, working with the State, we charged a probation supervision fee. County run probation programs charge a probation supervision fee. Parole charges a fee. Municipal run probation agency charge a supervision fee. The difference is that these programs are subsidized by tax dollars. Felony probation charges $22.00 a month fee, and if they ran their business by collecting all that money, the money would run out within the first 3 months. There is very little transparency when it comes to publicly run programs. Do you all want to know what this business makes, would you do the same for all the other small business owners in your area? These are not publicly traded companies and should not be required to share their losses or gains.

Devinator
2
Points
Devinator 05/12/14 - 10:36 pm
0
0
Voting Record

This is a great article, and I appreciate Sandy's victor to keep us up-to-speed on these issues. My personal story is at www.punitive.me. I absolutely agree that the Governor needs to veto this bill! I wrote both of my senators and my representative today, and contacted the governor asking that he veto HB582.

I was wondering where Sandy found the voting record. I couldn't find it anywhere. I think normally it would be here:
http://legiscan.com/GA/bill/HB582/2013
...but it's not listed. Any help there is appreciated.

Judges are throwing out amazingly harsh sentences for even the most simple "crimes". There's no way that a speeding ticket should be a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail (plus $1000 + fees, plus traffic school, plus community service, plus banishment, etc, etc). That's over the top, and now our legislators are wanting to give judges even more power. To top it all off, they are wanting to give for-profit corporations judicial power over citizens? WTH? Who's interests are these legislators serving? Ours? Vote. Them. Out. Now. Judges cannot hand down that kind of ridiculous, out-of-line punishment when they do not have the legal right to do so, so changing the law is the only method at our disposal to protect ourselves against this tyranny.

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