Traffic courts, private probation may be issues

  • Follow Metro

Decriminalizing traffic offenses and re-examining the use of private probation companies in Georgia are potential issues to be raised by the winner of next month's Senate District 22 special election.

The Augusta Chronicle, in following up on an investigation of the fines and fees paid by traffic violators and other misdemeanor offenders in Richmond County State Court, asked the candidates for their thoughts.

Any change in the system would have to come from the Legislature, and the four candidates seeking the open seat say they might take up the issue.

Georgia has the harshest penalties for traffic violations in the United States. Any traffic offense -- from drunken driving to driving 1 mph over the speed limit -- can result in 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Most traffic violations result only in fines and surcharges, but if the violator cannot pay the fine on the court date, he must make monthly payments set by a private probation company that also collects a fee for itself. If that money is not paid, it could mean a jail cell.

Libertarian candidate Taylor Bryant said he thinks it's a regressive system that's unfair to people who have to pay more because they are poor, and to taxpayers who foot the bill for jailing people.

He said he believes the General Assembly should look at decriminalizing traffic offenses and find a better way to deal with nonviolent crimes because of the incarceration costs. A person in jail isn't paying taxes or contributing to his family, he said.

Candidate Hardie Davis, who served three years as a state representative, said the economy and lack of jobs are the most crucial issues the General Assembly faces.

Putting people to work at good-paying jobs is one of the best ways to reduce crime and improve conditions in the community, Mr. Davis said.

Mr. Davis said he did not hear any discussion in the House about decriminalizing traffic offenses in the past three years. He said it could be an issue for the General Assembly, but he thinks the use of private probation companies should be addressed first because it affects low-income people who can never get out from under the fees that pile up.

Candidate Harold Jones, who was the Richmond County State Court solicitor before resigning to run in the special election, has backed decriminalizing some traffic offenses for several years. He says it would streamline the court process and free up time to handle more serious cases. He estimated that about half of the 23,000 traffic offenses the court dealt with last year were minor violations.

However, Mr. Jones said he is not in favor of going back to a government-run probation system, which also charged probation fees.

Even if most traffic offenses are decriminalized, private probation still would be needed to monitor the most serious cases.

Candidate Sandra Suetta Cannon Scott said she would want to hear what the people living in District 22 had to say about the matter before making any decisions. The General Assembly needs to consider how any change in the law affects residents, she said.

The list of traffic offenses and potential punishment should be reviewed before determining what is fair, Ms. Scott said.

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

PRIVATE PROBATION

Though most people who commit traffic violations will only pay a fine, traffic offenses in Georgia are misdemeanor crimes that are punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

In Richmond County State Court, people who can't immediately pay fines and surcharges in full are placed on probation. The county contracts with a private probation company, Sentinel Offender Services, which collects a monthly fee from every person on probation for misdemeanor and traffic offenses. Any violation of the conditions of probation can result in time behind bars.

PREVIOUS STORY

- Critics say private probation punishes poor unfairly

Comments (31)

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.
APiratesLife4Me
0
Points
APiratesLife4Me 12/28/09 - 03:30 am
0
0

Legal Organized Crime.

Legal Organized Crime.

justus4
93
Points
justus4 12/28/09 - 05:34 am
0
0

Notice ol' Hardie's complete

Unpublished

Notice ol' Hardie's complete lack of knowledge of the real world. He hasn't heard "any discussion", well that's his job to identify issues from his district, then gather support from other elected officials, then craft legislation, then get it on the agenda, then bring it to the floor. His district is mostly minorities whom are MOSTLY adversely affected by this corrupt system of so-called justice, and he appears not to know it. This SOS thing is a perfect example of how capitalism and greed does great harm to the constitution, however, it mostly hit the poor. People with NEVER get charged in the first place, so they NEVER encounter that rat hole. The whole thing is a shame and a "look at decriminalization" is not the answer. That's only being used to get votes because that response is not a serious one. The response should be: " My entire term will focuses on the state supreme court ruling on this issue and questioning the private probation system." This wicked & corrupted system is making big bucks for U know who, and getting it openly debated will cause some to panic for obvious reasons. This is a hot one that will also affect who will be elected in the 22nd.

Frank I
1132
Points
Frank I 12/28/09 - 08:42 am
0
0

funny to find you backing the

funny to find you backing the "minority" point of view justus

ColCo
460
Points
ColCo 12/28/09 - 08:53 am
0
0

Re-apportionment after the

Re-apportionment after the 2010 census will most likely combine Senate Districts 22 and 23 into one district. Regardless of what they say on the campaign trail, none of these dems will have any input or ability to influence any issue in the republican controlled Senate. The real question is which of these stellar candidates will be able to beat J.B. Powell in a head to head fight in 2012?

moveaugustaforward
0
Points
moveaugustaforward 12/28/09 - 10:03 am
0
0

justus4 is Champ Walker with

justus4 is Champ Walker with his Walker mentality. The old boss system is over Champ. Stop attacking Mr. Hardie Davis. Your strategy didn't work when Hardie ran in 2006 and it won't work now. Champ by the way when have you ever been elected to an office? Vote Hardie Davis by far the best candidate. Also, Champ, your boy Harold decriminalized traffic offenses by having poor work ethics by not sending the cases forward. You know he left that office because he made a mess and was a lazy Solicitor. Vote Hardie Davis and make Champ Walker(justus4) very ANGRY. The Walker Days are over. Harold is a big supporter of the Walker and Murphy old boss system. He isn't an independent thinker. He goes with what they tell him. And if Harold was so concerned about the residents why did he not push decriminalization when he was the Solicitor?

curiousgeorge
0
Points
curiousgeorge 12/28/09 - 10:04 am
0
0

Where is the competition? Is

Where is the competition? Is Sentinel the only company in the state of Georgia bidding for a contract with Richmond County? Has Augusta even considered seeking other alternatives? Probably not. Then if Augusta is considering keeping Sentinel to handle these cases then they should require change. Changes in the management of Sentinel Augusta. I would first get rid of the office manager Crystal Page and her team of so called "supervisors". It seems she has no common sense to make internal changes that would at least make the daily operations a little smoother. In order to handle conditioned cases you must have a degree; in efforts to "get around" this loop hole, Sentinel assigns the offender to a regular officer of record but when that person comes in, they may never see their real probation officer. So where is the justice in that? exactly there is none...the blind leading the blind go figure

jack
10
Points
jack 12/28/09 - 12:05 pm
0
0

Either don't speed or drive

Either don't speed or drive drunk, or pay the fine whensentenced. If fine not paid immediately, jail time.

DAMY46
0
Points
DAMY46 12/28/09 - 12:05 pm
0
0

Ms. Scott gave a nice answer.

Ms. Scott gave a nice answer. (I could have said that and I am not even running) She needs to spend some time and research some of the issues Maybe then she can give an intelligent response. my 2 cents

reruns
0
Points
reruns 12/28/09 - 12:52 pm
0
0

Sentinel charges a huge fine

Sentinel charges a huge fine along with a probation fee. I was told when i complained about the fees, I was told to "Talk to your legislature." Unfortunately, I don't have the time or the resources because I work full time and have a family. My husaband and I don't make alot of money and the court dates are so soon that you have a hard time to come up with 350 dollare for the ticket. Therefore you have to result in making payment through the private office. Which in the end with fees and fines. I think my ticket ended up being around 1200. Yes we pay taxes and have "legitamate jobs." This ticket was my fault entirely and i would have glady paid the fine in a timely matter, but the fees need to be reasonable.

corgimom
19257
Points
corgimom 12/28/09 - 01:20 pm
0
0

Reruns, here's a hint: Don't

Reruns, here's a hint: Don't commit offenses, then you won't have anything to worry about.

disssman
6
Points
disssman 12/28/09 - 02:30 pm
0
0

I sure like Mr. Davis'

I sure like Mr. Davis' statements and have heard them from politicians for over 60 years. What they don't tell you is how they will be accomplished. I wonder what he accomplished in three years? I personally believe that the Liberterian has it right and his idea would free up hundreds of police officers for anti-crime patrols, which are desperately needed in this day.

purmkinhed
27
Points
purmkinhed 12/28/09 - 02:30 pm
0
0

Sentinal is a financial

Sentinal is a financial rapist at best. They pray on the poor and treat them like their nobody's. I can't imagine being treated that way because I ran a light and couldn't pay the fine all at once. So sad. Better Richmond county collecting the fee for probation services than some private company making a huge profit off the poor. At least the money could be put forth to better the community. IE: Repairing roads, schools and parks. The traffic laws definately need to be addressed. It's just flat out silly for most of those laws to be as severe as they are. OK Georgia, get with the times already will ya!!!

gargoyle
10171
Points
gargoyle 12/28/09 - 02:59 pm
0
0

Sentinel even if administered

Sentinel even if administered properly can only be described as legalized extortion... The system is similar to the turn of the century prison camps that were ripe with corruption and payoffs to officials ... Privatization of the court system is one of those slippery slopes we need to think about ....

Yosemitesam
0
Points
Yosemitesam 12/28/09 - 03:14 pm
0
0

If Sentinel can handle

If Sentinel can handle Richmond County fines/probations at a corporate profit why can't the County just do it themselves? I'm tired of seeing the legislature submit to profiteering private companies for penalties and enforcment in our legal system. They just keep piling it on the poor. I think it's reprehensible that a private company can issue an unbondable arrest warrant on a traffic offense probationer simply because they cannot afford to pay the exhorbitant add on fees. Likewise, I don't think a private corporation should be able to hold the key to a prison door for prisoners. Private prisons are instituionalizing prisoners at a great profit and then unleashing hardened criminals on the street when their time is up. Locked up for DUI and put in with murderers, violent offenders, forced to physicallly defend themselves form prison violence, once they are put on the street they continue to live the prison lifestyle. If the government cannot see fit to handle fines, probation and jail time they need to revamp the entire criminal code and legal system.

Harrisburgsurvivor
2
Points
Harrisburgsurvivor 12/28/09 - 04:06 pm
0
0

Taylor Bryant has got my

Taylor Bryant has got my vote.

corgimom
19257
Points
corgimom 12/28/09 - 05:30 pm
0
0

"Locked up for DUI" Sorry,

"Locked up for DUI" Sorry, YosemiteSam, you drink and drive, you go to jail. I have no sympathy for drunk drivers, they are killers.

Yosemitesam
0
Points
Yosemitesam 12/28/09 - 05:48 pm
0
0

corimom.....it could be any

corimom.....it could be any traffic offense. Dui is .....extreme I know and I do not profess to make excuses for them. That was not my point. The article was "spot on" for Georgia having the harshest sentences for traffic violations. It's ridiculous to lump running a red light, speeding etc into a court room for disposition. Most all states issue tickets and a fine, no court room appearance. And I don't think anyone would agree that someone convicted of a moving traffic violation should serve in prison along side hardened, violent criminals. There has to be a better way. Attorney Jack Long has fought a long battle against the Sentinel company for their handling of poor people who cannot pay their fines when they go to court. ONLY in GA can a private company like sentinel obtain a UNBONDABLE warrant for not being able to make a fine on time. Does anyone think our present rate of incarceration is doing anything but bankrupting the prison system?

mieshel
3
Points
mieshel 12/28/09 - 06:27 pm
0
0

The sad part about it is that

The sad part about it is that Sentinel employee will tell you that even though you dont have the money, just come see your probation officer to let them know.. but what they didn't tell you that next time your payment doubles including extra fees..lol Next thing you know, your recieving a warrant letter. So for those who are paying fines...be careful!

EXAUGUSTAGUY
0
Points
EXAUGUSTAGUY 12/28/09 - 06:29 pm
0
0

put sentinel out of business

put sentinel out of business

Tigger_The_Tiger
0
Points
Tigger_The_Tiger 12/28/09 - 06:34 pm
0
0

corgi........take note......I

corgi........take note......I 100% agree with your 12:20 post!

mable8
2
Points
mable8 12/28/09 - 08:20 pm
0
0

I am against ANY private

I am against ANY private company being involved with the criminal justice system regardless of what state they are located in. Private groups that deal with probation, parole, and prisons are far more costly than state operations. Furthermore, brutality towards the inmates is much higher among these private companies than in the state operated facilities--and that says something ominous about how these workers deal with inmates. There does not seem to be a strict measure of control in the operations of private companies that is in place for the state operated facilities. Get them out of our criminal justice system for good; the states are capable of doing the job without them.

FallingLeaves
26
Points
FallingLeaves 12/28/09 - 10:02 pm
0
0

moveaugustaforward. I find

moveaugustaforward. I find your post at 9:03am very validating. Thanks for sharing that. I was hoping over the years that Harold Jones would be someone I could vote for. I have a list of reasons why I am not, now, one of which is the Big Sign supporting him on Calvin Holland's front lawn. I will not vote for anyone Calvin Holland is supporting.

TakeAstand
13
Points
TakeAstand 12/28/09 - 10:55 pm
0
0

I agree with corgi too 100%.

I agree with corgi too 100%. If its your first young and dumb mistake you probably wont do jail time, any more than that 1 you deserve everything you get and then some. They don't punish these piece of holly drunk drivers as they should! Its BS people get 4 5 8 10 duis and little jail time. You should receive life sentences because you are a habitual danger to society, if you can't control yourself then someone else should protect innocent people from you! No sympathy here for a drunk driver.

TakeAstand
13
Points
TakeAstand 12/28/09 - 11:00 pm
0
0

Not to mention if you can't

Not to mention if you can't afford the fine don't speed then you don't have to worry about it. It is 100% preventable. They also should start punishing people with no insurance a lot more than they do. I know someone who has been caught driving on a suspended and no insurance 6 times and served 60 days just to avoid some fines. There is no real deterrant, then that same irresponsible person hits someone and can not pay. They need to start giving more jail time to some of these people not less, evidently the fines, even on minor violations, aren't enough to prevent them from doing it over and over and over. In the long run it never costs the loser who did wrong to start with, it costs all the other law abiding citizens. Sickening

TechLover
15
Points
TechLover 12/29/09 - 04:24 am
0
0

Private prisons and private

Private prisons and private probation companies should be outlawed. They lobby for increased fines, longer sentences, and cost more to run than public facilities and services.

dstewartsr
20388
Points
dstewartsr 12/31/09 - 10:24 am
0
0

Why has this evolved, why

Why has this evolved, why does it seem to be escalating? Cash, lots of it; and of course none of it gets back to the judges and magistrates running the system. Yeah, right.

jamesmonty
0
Points
jamesmonty 12/31/09 - 11:51 am
0
0

For those who say "don't

For those who say "don't break the laws and you don't have any worries". For those people I say "you are perfect and have never done anything while driving that would warrant you getting a ticket". It does happen and when you are lucky when no law inforcement is around to issue you a ticket. The present system is unfair. But, I think that DUI and driving way above the speed limit should be dealt with harsely.

TakeAstand
13
Points
TakeAstand 12/31/09 - 04:15 pm
0
0

james, we aren't saying we

james, we aren't saying we are perfect, but when we break the law, we accept the consequences. We know there are some. If you can't afford to pay, don't play. Traffic violations are 100% preventable. Everyone slips up now and then, but you have to be prepared to accept your punishment. Even the fines and punishments do not stop these people who can not afford to break the law from doing it over and over, like those who drive without insurance all the time, they whine about the fines and cost of insurance, yet they dont think or care about the people they hit and put them without a car to get to work to feed their family with. Its all about me me me. And everyone speeds at somepoint in their life, but so many do it over and over and over. don't whine about the fines, stop speeding!!! Its not the cops fault he caught you breaking the law, its yours, accept responsibility for it! What do you think would be fair since the present system isn't? Even with the fines these people keep doing it over and over, why should they lower the fines? So the people can break the law even more, maybe they will get tired of paying and follow the law!

TakeAstand
13
Points
TakeAstand 12/31/09 - 04:16 pm
0
0

And if you have to make

And if you have to make payments why shouldnt you have to pay extra for the manpower to keep up with all your stuff until you are done paying. Yes I think their price is a little steep, but it shouldnt be free or at the taxpayers expense. You have interest and penalties on everything you make payments on in this world!

montega12
0
Points
montega12 12/31/09 - 05:55 pm
0
0

i love how some people would

i love how some people would want to bloat jails over a speeding ticket that why all these armed robbery assault rapists and all these other scumbags get out early and end up robbing or killing someone else. and its also amazing how many that leave comments seemingly must waLK ON WATER AND HAVE NEVER DONE ANYTHING WRONG. careful you could end up like thomas chong he didnt do anything his name was on a bong never sold em or anything. private prisons and probation is a corporation thats why in some areas there is a 90 percent conviction rate for the the simplist of offenses simply they get paid huge amounts of money but their prisons have to be full same goes for probation offices there are paid on bulk not substance3

Back to Top

Top headlines

New chair gets vet off-road to fish

Army veteran Henry Kent's new Action Trackchair has attachments for fishing, with a holder for his fishing pole and a built-in tackle box, but others can be outfitted with gunracks for hunting.
Loading...