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Senator received support from probation firm owner, bondsmen group

Bond fee measure followed donation from lobby group

Saturday, April 19, 2014 7:49 PM
Last updated Sunday, April 20, 2014 1:46 AM
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Less than a week before a Senate committee stripped a bill of provisions that limited the fees private probation companies can charge, the owner of such a firm wrote a letter of recommendation for the Waynesboro state senator who headed the committee and is in line for a judgeship that will supervise people affected by the legislation.

State Sen. Jesse Stone, now a candidate for judge, headed a committee that handled a measure on probation companies.  JIM BLAYLOCK/FILE
JIM BLAYLOCK/FILE
State Sen. Jesse Stone, now a candidate for judge, headed a committee that handled a measure on probation companies.


In addition, three days before the legislative session began, state Sen. Jesse Stone received his largest single campaign contribution from the Georgia As­so­­ciation of Professional Bonds­­men, according to his campaign contributions reports.

During the session, the Re­publican sponsored a bill that increases the fees these companies charge to post bonds, which are generally set by judges.

Stone is one of two candidates to become the next Burke County State Court judge. The court contracts with a private company, CSRA Pro­bation Services, to supervise those on probation for misdemeanors.

On Feb. 18, the owner of CSRA Probation Services, Mi­chael Popplewell, wrote a recommendation letter for Stone to the governor. Stone said he knew Pop­ple­well intended to write the letter.

Stone qualified to run for re-election on March 6. On March 7, he announced that he would seek the State Court judgeship. Stone said Popplewell’s endorsement had nothing to do with what happened to the private probation bill after it was assigned to the judiciary non-civil committee, which he heads.

Stone said last week that he was trying to reach a compromise between those supporting private probation and those opposed to it. It isn’t perfect, Stone said, but both sides got some of the things they wanted.

“I respectfully disagree with Sen. Stone,” Sarah Geraghty, of the Southern Center for Human Rights, wrote in an e-mail. “This was a bill brought at the behest of the private industry. It was a huge win for the industry, which stands to profit enormously from its passage appointment.”

Chris Albin-Lackey, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch whose work led to a scathing report about private probation, called the bill “a shameless giveaway to the probation industry, not a compromise.”

“There isn’t an ounce of real reform in it,” he wrote.

As Stone pointed out, he didn’t introduce the bill. In its first draft, it directly referenced a ruling by Augusta Judicial Cir­cuit Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Craig, who is assigned to more than a dozen civil rights lawsuits filed against the private probation company Sen­ti­nel Offender Services in Richmond and Columbia counties. Craig ruled in September that the law doesn’t allow such companies to perform electronic monitoring or to seek the indefinite extension of probation sentences.

State lawmakers dumped the responsibility of supervising misdemeanor probationers onto local governments in 2000. They can create their own probation departments or contract for the services. With private companies charging local governments nothing for their services – their income derives from the fees probationers pay – it became the option of choice for most.

If the governor signs the bill into law or doesn’t veto it by the end of the month, private probation companies will be able to seek imprisonment of probationers who don’t pay their fees. Human Rights Watch estimated that private probation firms in Georgia generated $40 million in revenue last year. According to an application to renew its insurance, Sen­tinel’s revenue in June 2012 was more than $5.58 million. Most of Sentinel’s contracts are in Georgia.

According to state Eth­ics Commission records, the Pri­vate Probation Asso­cia­tion of Georgia had eight lobbyists working this year’s legislative session at a cost of more than $10,000 each. The Georgia Association of Pro­fessional Bondsmen has its own lobby. According to Stone’s campaign finance disclosure, the lobby gave him a $2,600 donation Jan. 11. The lobby also gave $2,600 to Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, who was Stone’s co-sponsor of the bill that was passed by the House and Senate.

The three representatives who received campaign contributions also voted for the bill. House Speaker David Ralston also received a $2,600 donation. The speaker generally doesn’t vote unless there is a tie.

Stone said the donation had nothing to do with his sponsorship of the bail bondsmen bill. He said it was in response to a case where a bonding company’s escrow requirement was drastically increased. Current law says the cash escrow amount is approved by the sheriff.
That bill, which is also awaiting the governor’s signature, allows companies in business for at least 18 months to limit the escrow to no more than 10 percent of its bail bond liability. The bill also increased their fees from 12 percent for bonds of $10,000 or less to 15 percent of bonds, regardless of the bond amount. It also guarantees a minimum $50 fee per bond.

Stone said he receives contributions from a lot of people and organizations. According to campaign disclosure reports, he has had numerous contributors since his first run for state Senate in 2010. Stone said he has received contributions from groups that pushed for legislation he would not support.

Stone said he takes an interest in the judicial system and pointed to his sponsorship of a bill regarding the no-contact provisions in cases of domestic violence and another that increased the penalty for contempt of court. If Stone becomes the next Burke County State Court judge, he would contract for private probation services, set bonds, deal with domestic violence cases, and have the power to hold someone in contempt of court.

Referring to the commendation letter from a private probation company owner and a bail bondsmen lobby’s campaign contribution, Stone said, “I don’t see these as conflicts of interest.”

EXEMPTIONS QUESTIONED

Though state Sen. Jesse Stone contends the private probation bill doesn’t prevent a judge or local government from releasing information about the companies, Gov. Nathan Deal has expressed concern about the secrecy provision of the bill.

The bill specifically exempts private probation company reports, files, records and “papers of whatever kind relative to the supervision of probationers” from the state’s Open Records law.

Sarah Geraghty, of the Southern Center for Human Rights, said HB 837 exempts the amount of fees charged, the number of people under supervision, the amount of restitution collected, the number and reasons for the termination of probation sentences, and the number of warrants issued against probationers.

– Sandy Hodson, staff writer

Comments (18) Add comment
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specsta
7181
Points
specsta 04/19/14 - 07:47 pm
19
2
Vote Him Out

This is very troubling. In fact, the concept of private probation companies being given free reign to destroy a probationer's life is appalling, heinous and despicable.

These companies will use every under-handed tactic to squeeze every nickel from an offender, even beyond their initial probation period. For the GA legislature to give these crooked companies additional powers, is asinine.

Mr. Stone should be ashamed of himself. Ashamed!

The governor MUST veto this horrible bill and the Justice Department needs to look into the corruption going on in our court system.

Little Lamb
49247
Points
Little Lamb 04/19/14 - 09:52 pm
18
0
Stone Is Gone

I am so ashamed of Jesse Stone for promoting the bill that allows private probation firms to attach debt to probationers that can send them to prison, not for violating the original terms, but for not paying the probation firms' bills. That is what they call debtors' prison. The United States was founded against that principle.

Stone needs to be rejected for judge and rejected for senator.

gargoyle
21089
Points
gargoyle 04/19/14 - 10:03 pm
15
0
We now know what Mr. Stones

We now know what Mr. Stones soul is worth. Wonder what he would do for 10,000. Justice for the highest bidder?

geecheeriverman
4789
Points
geecheeriverman 04/20/14 - 04:06 am
13
0
Dishonest

I believe Sen. Stone was an honorable person until he became a State Senator. When he became a member of the cesspool that is the Ga. State Senate, he became one of them. He needs to back home and try to reform himself.

Navy Gary
1615
Points
Navy Gary 04/20/14 - 06:43 am
14
0
No shame

No shame in government these days. Just more proof that our votes only decide who gets lobbied by special interests. The only people in Georgia that think this is a good idea are those profiting from it...the politicians and the private Gestapo firms pushing these stupid laws.

corgimom
38720
Points
corgimom 04/20/14 - 06:49 am
1
16
Don't commit crimes, then you

Don't commit crimes, then you never have to worry about paying probation fees.

It's simple.

Gage Creed
19442
Points
Gage Creed 04/20/14 - 06:59 am
11
0
I guess a politician being

I guess a politician being bought and sold skips right over the reasoning capacity of some....

GiantsAllDay
10558
Points
GiantsAllDay 04/20/14 - 07:10 am
12
0
I've commented many times on

I've commented many times on this subject. Stone is just one guy out of many that makes a profit from putting his fellow human beings in cages. I bet every night he sleeps more soundly than most of us.

avidreader
3567
Points
avidreader 04/20/14 - 08:37 am
3
6
Choices!

"Sen­tinel’s revenue in June 2012 was more than $5.58 million." If the state court system were running the show, there would not have been any profits on revenue -- the taxpayer's would have been in the hole with deep losses. Leave the private services alone and let them run an efficient business. A judge still has the power to intercede if an unjust problem occurs.

As corgimom commented, "Don't commit crimes, then you never have to worry about paying probation fees." It's scary to think that state-hired employees could actually be running the probation departments across the state.

HOWEVER, this entire Jesse Stone thing sounds like political corruption, no matter how he attempts to spin it. The entire system -- corporate contributions-- is screwed up. We know it, and our politicians know it.

Amen!

Butterman
3696
Points
Butterman 04/20/14 - 09:05 am
2
1
Everybody's Got to Get Stone
Unpublished

Looks like the private probation companies got him.. and for $10,000

Little Lamb
49247
Points
Little Lamb 04/20/14 - 12:37 pm
4
1
Rainy Day Women

Hey, thanks, Butterman, for reminding of that Bob Dylan Song. Here are are the lyrics from the verse appropriate to this story:

They'll stone you when you're at the breakfast table
They'll stone you when you are young and able
They'll stone you when you're tryin’ ta make a buck
They'll stone you and then they'll say, "Good luck"

But I would not feel so all alone;
Everybody must get stoned

Yeah, Sentinel and the other private probation companies are "tryin’ ta make a buck" alright. They're making bucks by making probationers pay ridiculous fees that the sentencing judge never ordered.

ralphinga
1892
Points
ralphinga 04/20/14 - 01:07 pm
2
2
Who's afraid of the Probation Companies?

The folks who get put on probation are fighting them because they know that the same service provided by the state is riddled with holes and has no incentive to go after the violators.

Chris Albin-Lackey, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch whose work led to a scathing report about private probation, called the bill “a shameless giveaway to the probation industry, not a compromise.”

Graymare
3809
Points
Graymare 04/20/14 - 04:06 pm
3
0
Sometimes bad things happen to good people...

Matthew 7 "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5"You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. 6"Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces."

gargoyle
21089
Points
gargoyle 04/20/14 - 04:53 pm
3
0
Call me a idealist but I hope

Call me a idealist but I hope for our criminal justice system to be above a business model. Where the profit or loss per person becomes the deciding factor fixing a broken judicial system . A Walmart modeled probation system is just mudding up the waters and padding pockets with very little value to society.

The Mick
832
Points
The Mick 04/20/14 - 05:38 pm
5
1
No wonder he got out of the

No wonder he got out of the congressional race. He did not want this dirt coming out in the debacle. And if you will allow me to quote Steve Miller, "Go on take the money and run". Boy, if I was in a position like Mr. Stone, it would cost you more than $2600 for me to ruin my reputation.

bright idea
923
Points
bright idea 04/20/14 - 05:39 pm
5
1
Not a business

I can appreciate a search for efficiency but when probation, prison, road building and education turns into a for profit business at the bequest of any government you can ultimately expect stuff like this. It is easy to say if you stay out of trouble you will avoid the fees of probation but profiting from the negatives of human nature sounds a bit dirty to me. How much campaign money does a state senator need anyway? Make the profit without buying off the politicians and be satisfied.

Graymare
3809
Points
Graymare 04/20/14 - 07:46 pm
2
0
Brightidea

Amen! You hit the nail on the head! Guess we need to hit some politicians on the head too! lol!

Bodhisattva
7311
Points
Bodhisattva 04/21/14 - 06:09 am
2
0
GOP

Get Our Payola

Navy Gary
1615
Points
Navy Gary 04/21/14 - 07:45 am
1
0
Corruption

Corruption in its purest form.

Navy Gary
1615
Points
Navy Gary 04/21/14 - 07:48 am
0
0
Oops!

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