John GogickExecutive Editor for The Augusta Chronicle. | E-mail

John Gogick: HB 837 - a measure on private probation companies

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It was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius when the state Legislature wrote the preamble to Georgia’s Open Records laws.

Although I am reading:

“The General Assembly finds and declares that the strong public policy of this state is in favor of open government; … “

I am hearing strains from the musical Hair:

Let the sunshine.

Let the sunshine in, the sun, shine in.

“… that open government is essential to a free, open, and democratic society; and that public access to public records should be encouraged to foster confidence in government and so that the public can evaluate the expenditure of public funds and the efficient and proper functioning of its institutions.”

And I can’t get the tune of my head. As if it were meant to be read aloud to the rhythm.

Let the sunshine.

Let the sunshine in, the sun, shine in.

“… The General Assembly further finds and declares that there is a strong presumption that public records should be made available for public inspection without delay.”

But then the music changed Thursday when the Georgia Legislature took a dim view of Sunshine Week.

It passed HB 837 that day – a measure on private probation companies.

Reporter Sandy Hodson brought to light some of the issues surrounding private probation in Richmond County in a series of stories over several years on the program.

More recently, 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.

The bill passed this week addressed the points that Craig found lacking in the Georgia law. And the bill requires accountability to the judges and local government in the form of reports on the number of offenders under supervision; the amount of fines, statutory surcharges, and restitution collected; the number of offenders for whom supervision or rehabilitation has been terminated and the reason for the termination; and the number of warrants issued each quarter.

More accountability is available each quarter, upon request: the amount of fees collected, what the fees were for, including supervision, rehabilitation programming, electronic monitoring, drug or alcohol detection devices, etc.

Requiring those reports and accountability is a positive step.

But then the Legislature tosses out the accountability in the next sentence, hiding the reports being made for your government officials and the information contained within from you.

Information reported pursuant to this paragraph shall not be subject to disclosure.

Sunshine on the actions of these organizations would be in the public interest (and make me happy).

But the song can’t remain the same, as the chords of Stormy Weather take over.

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Little Lamb
Little Lamb 03/22/14 - 08:50 am

I appreciate the reporting on the private probation scandals that have plagued our area. I also appreciate the rulings of Judge Danny Craig, and the tireless efforts of attorney Jack Long. They have exposed many of the sordid practices of Sentinel Probation Services. Now the General Assembly is taking the practices back into the darkness.

Good column, Mr. Gogick.

avidreader 03/22/14 - 09:29 am
Excellent Column!

The general public should be concerned with this secrecy! One never knows when one will become a victim of Sentinel. It could happen to anyone!

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