Many reforms are under way in private probation industry

  • Follow Opinion columns

A recent audit of the state’s private probation industry found much to criticize while ignoring the many benefits the industry provides. Despite best efforts to be thorough, the limited number of cases studied may not provide an accurate picture of the industry or the scope of its services.

Georgia’s private probation industry provides a valuable and cost-effective service that enhances public safety. Nearly three-dozen service providers supervise approximately a quarter-million probationers while working with more than 600 municipal, state, probate and superior courts. Together, our companies guided probationers in completing more than 2 million hours of community service in 2013 and ensured thousands of victims received restitution – all while saving state taxpayers millions of dollars.

As the largest private provider of probation services in Georgia, Sentinel Offender Services is leading the way in supporting reforms. We believe in having a uniform set of standards for probation providers throughout the state. Unfortunately, critics fail to recognize the industry has already taken several steps to implement changes – something the audit could not measure because of the time frame in which it was done.

OFTEN, INDIVIDUALS with no experience in an industry that requires interaction with offender populations don’t understand the complexity of the issues. For example, while critics claim warrants are used to threaten probationers, the fact is a percentage of offenders will not comply with their sentences. Probation officers are required to inform offenders of the potential consequences of noncompliance – usually incarceration – but calling that a threat is a mischaracterization.

While the industry remains a highly effective component of Georgia’s justice system, we recognize the system is not perfect, and there always is room for improvement. Sentinel Offender Services supports the following industry best practices, which we believe other service providers can embrace to continue making our industry better:

• a signed contract with every court for which a company provides services, clearly setting fees, performance standards and guidelines for probationers and service providers;

• allowing courts to establish criteria for determining if an offender is indigent, and which offenders meet that definition (we also support a transparent process for courts to select probation providers);

• a multi-tiered fee scale with lower monthly fees for offenders ordered only to pay fines;

• terminating cases upon full payment of court-imposed financial obligations, and a policy that prevents issuing warrants related only to collection of fees;

• capping fees so the maximum supervision fee does not exceed the total of other court-ordered financial obligations;

• assessing fees only in 30-day increments, and never assessing a fee in any month that supervision services are not provided;

• increased reporting to courts about the status of all probationers; more court days specifically to address probation issues; and increased transparency in the court-provider-probationer relationship.

Our experience shows that quality case management from experienced officers keeps offenders accountable, and leads to successful completion of probation sentences. Despite our success, we recognize that change is necessary, and the best practices above underlie our commitment.

ULTIMATELY, EVERY private probation provider in Georgia wants the system to be the best it can. Many have been working toward common-sense reforms that will ensure greater uniformity across jurisdictions. We recognize that by continuing to enhance transparency and accountability, private probation providers will best be able to benefit offenders, courts and the communities we serve.

(The writer is chief business development officer at Sentinel Offender Services in Atlanta.)

Comments (8) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
GiantsAllDay
10295
Points
GiantsAllDay 05/10/14 - 11:23 pm
1
0
He sounds like a really nice

He sounds like a really nice guy who would never be influenced by corporate greed. For this reason I have completely changed my mind 180 degrees on this matter. Governor Deal, please sign the next bill that comes across your desk and let these compassionate private probation companies flourish so that they may continue to serve their fellow man. I apologize for being so skeptical prior to reading this fantastic LTE.

specsta
6776
Points
specsta 05/11/14 - 01:44 am
3
0
Good God...

"As the largest private provider of probation services in Georgia, Sentinel Offender Services is leading the way in supporting reforms."

Dude, seriously?

Does leading the way entail locking up destitute probationers, forcing probationers to continue paying AFTER their sentences have been completed and running your company at such a shoddy level that Human Rights Watch lists Sentinel as one of the worst human rights offenders in the nation?

If I had the misguided misfortune of working for Sentinel, I would quit that mess and try to redeem my life by having a shred of humanity and stop being the spokesman for the devil.

Bodhisattva
6850
Points
Bodhisattva 05/11/14 - 06:03 am
3
0
Its elimination, along with

Its elimination, along with private prisons would be the best reform all states and the federal government could deliver.

Little Lamb
48010
Points
Little Lamb 05/11/14 - 08:48 am
1
0
Best Practices

Look at Mr. Contestabile's audacity as he lists this "best practice":

• terminating cases upon full payment of court-imposed financial obligations, and a policy that prevents issuing warrants related only to collection of fees;

Issuing arrest warrants related only to collection of fees was precisely what Sentinel was doing; and the only reason they stopped was because Judge Danny Craig ruled it was illegal. The next thing you know, Sentinel paid a bunch of Georgia lawmakers (including our own Jesse Stone) to pass a law making the practice legal, only to have Governor Deal veto the law.

Is this guy Contestabile slimy or what?

Little Lamb
48010
Points
Little Lamb 05/11/14 - 08:52 am
1
0
Meaningless

Is it just me or is anyone else getting tired of people calling for "transparency?" Look at this last "best practice" on Mr. Contestabile's list:

• increased transparency in the court-provider-probationer relationship.

Come to think of it, Mr. Contestabile is transparent. He is duplicitous and condescending.

Navy Gary
1615
Points
Navy Gary 05/11/14 - 11:00 am
1
0
Abolish this practice!

We need to abolish this practice. If the state requires it, then the state needs to provide it directly.

Navy Gary
1615
Points
Navy Gary 05/11/14 - 11:03 am
0
0
Abolish this practice!

Abolish this practice altogether. If the state requires it (probation), then the state needs to provide supervision for it directly.

gargoyle
19585
Points
gargoyle 05/11/14 - 03:13 pm
1
0
I heard Hitler could give a

I heard Hitler could give a good speech too but his body of work was suspect . Sentinel Offender Services past body of work being viewed they shouldn't have a voice in any law or reform of laws concerning probation.

Navy Gary
1615
Points
Navy Gary 05/11/14 - 06:59 pm
2
0
Abolish these firms

Abolish these firms. If the state requires supervision, then the state needs to provide it directly. Allowing a profit making third party only serves those who profit. The state would be better served doing away with misdemeanor probation altogether.

Back to Top

Search Augusta jobs