Justices to hear case of private probation firm

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The Georgia Supreme Court will hear arguments Monday in a Richmond County case that pits the government and a private company against a pro bono attorney hoping the court will end the use of private, for-profit probation companies.

Sandy Hodson
Database Reporter
E-mail | 706-823-3226

Earlier this year, Superior Court Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet reversed Lisa Harrelson's misdemeanor conviction and ordered Sentinel Offender Services to return the $500 she had paid in fines and fees.

Sentinel and the state, through Richmond County State Court Solicitor Harold Jones, appealed the ruling.

Attorney John "Jack" Long filed a cross appeal to ask the state's high court to address what Judge Overstreet did not: the constitutionality of a court's use of a private, pro-profit company to monitor probationers.

The Augusta Chronicle reported last year that Ms. Harrelson was arrested in July 2007 after she was found slumped over the steering wheel of her car at 13th Street and Walton Way. She was charged with driving under the influence of drugs.

Ms. Harrelson took prescription medication for mental health.

After two days in jail, Ms. Harrelson waived her right to a court-appointed attorney because she didn't have $50 for the public defender's application fee, Mr. Long said.

She pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol, not drugs.

Ms. Harrelson was fined $400, assessed $251 in surcharges and placed on probation for 11 months and 29 days. She was also ordered to pay Sentinel a supervision fee of $35 a month.

Ms. Harrelson signed documents indicating she did not want an attorney and that she was freely and voluntarily pleading guilty. However, there is no transcript of the hearing.

Judge Overstreet ruled there is no way to prove Ms. Harrelson's plea was voluntary without a transcript of the hearing. He also found the $50 fee to apply for a public defender infringed on a poor person's right to an attorney.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.


The Georgia Supreme Court is televising Monday's oral arguments. This case will be heard at 2 p.m. To watch, go to www.gasupreme.us/media/live_sept.php.

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justus4 09/20/09 - 07:08 am
This is an important case.

This is an important case. Unfortunately, the Court will not see things in a Constitutional manner, because they will rule in favor of private companies, but how can a for-profit agency be concerned with the principles associated with the Constitution? It can not! It will not! But this coming decision's failure will do the most harm to, guess who? U guessed it: The minoritry population. So predicting this one is easy...just follow the money.

bettyboop 09/20/09 - 07:44 am
"Ms. Harrelson signed

"Ms. Harrelson signed documents indicating she did not want an attorney and that she was freely and voluntarily pleading guilty. However, there is no transcript of the hearing.".....The more disturbing news here is the loss of records....

DEVGRU 09/20/09 - 08:12 am
It's nothing but a money pit.

It's nothing but a money pit. It's very easy for some to be railroaded through the legal system even when innocent.

nofrills 09/20/09 - 08:18 am
She had a mental health

She had a mental health issue. Private probation is like putting your cat in charge of your pet hamster. I have never been on probation myself but I have several family members who have. Its a catch 22 contract to begin with but if you want your freedom you must abide. The problem with it is your broke and out of jail and now you get his with all those fees not to mention you need fifty bucks just to get legal help. This system needs reform!

mad_max 09/20/09 - 09:02 am
justus4.....I agree with you

justus4.....I agree with you except your normal minority crap. Contract probation hurts everyone forced into the system and it mostly hurts poor people and young people of all colors. A "white" friend of mine's son just pretty much gave up and was ruined after getting a DUI, having his license suspended, and being placed on contractor supervised probation. With no license he could not get to work and make the money to pay the contractor and it finally became "easier" to not pay, let the contractor violate his probation, and get locked up. Contractors do not belong in the "justice" system. When money is involved, justice goes out the window and it all boils down to the kickbacks to the judges and the court. When justice becomes all about making money, and it has, we have lost ANOTHER American value.

EXAUGUSTAGUY 09/20/09 - 11:38 am
Contract Probation makes a

Contract Probation makes a sham of democracy. The ripoff system forces people of all colors to pay exorbitant fees, miss work and eventually lose all they own. Sentinel even lobbies the judges for additional probation time for some offenders(Can you say more fees?)
Probably unlikely, but maybe the high court will put Sentinel out of business. i HOPE SO!!

AugustaVoter 09/20/09 - 08:24 pm
What this story doesn't

What this story doesn't mention is that Sentinel can and will issue a warrant for arrest for not paying the probation fee but they do not have the legal authority to do so. They are not Police officers or clerks of the court, they are private citizens at a private company. They should have to apply like everyone else. Another illegal part to the Sentinel story. I hope that is also addressed by this attorney. Hey AC, what city official is getting a kickback/ bribe from this company?

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