Attorneys challenge legality of private probation

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Hills McGee has sat in the Richmond County jail for nearly two weeks because he couldn't pay a private probation company's supervision fees, his attorneys contend.

Hills McGee might have to serve two months in jail because he couldn't pay a private probation company's supervision fees.  Special
Special
Hills McGee might have to serve two months in jail because he couldn't pay a private probation company's supervision fees.

Unless McGee discovers a way to make $186 in jail, or a writ of habeas corpus -- a civil proceeding that challenges the lawfulness of his imprisonment -- is granted, he must serve two months behind bars.

Attorneys John B. Long, A. Montague Miller and John C. Bell volunteered to represent McGee and seek a ruling that the use of private, for-profit probation companies is an unconstitutional delegation of judicial power.

McGee's Richmond County Superior Court habeas petition is assigned to Judge Michael N. Annis. He has scheduled a hearing for 9 a.m. Wednesday.

According to court records, McGee pleaded no contest on Oct. 23, 2008, to misdemeanor charges of obstruction of a law enforcement officer and public drunkenness. He was sentenced to 24 months' probation and ordered to pay $270 in fines and surcharges and a $39 monthly probation supervision fee.

In January, according to court records, McGee was given two months to perform 41 hours of community service in lieu of paying the $270 because he couldn't afford it.

According to the habeas petition filed for McGee, his only income is a monthly $243 disability check from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

McGee says he completed the community service, Long said.

A telephone message left for Sentinel Area Manager Crystal Page wasn't returned Monday afternoon. In an interview with The Augusta Chronicle last year, Page said when a probationer completes all the conditions of his sentence, his case is transferred to non-supervisory status, and he no longer has to report or pay the monthly probation fee.

On Jan. 13, McGee was brought back into Richmond County State Court to show cause as to why his probation shouldn't be revoked. The petition alleged he had failed to pay $186 and failed to report to his probation officer.

State Court Judge David D. Watkins ordered McGee to pay $186 -- the amount owed to Sentinel -- or serve two months in jail.

According to jail records, on Monday, McGee was one of 114 Richmond County jail inmates who were being held because a State Court order to show cause was pending or had resulted in a jail sentence. The taxpayers' bill for just one day: $5,130.

Sheriff Ronnie Strength said Monday there were just over 1,000 inmates in the jail, which meant it was over capacity.

He is mindful of the $45-a-day cost to house an inmate, especially this year, because he is trying to reduce jail costs by $500,000 to meet his budget.

McGee's attorneys contend it is unlawful to jail someone for failing to pay a fine or fee unless a judge determines the failure was willful. According to the petition, no such determination was made before McGee was sentenced to jail.

McGee's attorneys contend it is a violation of his rights to allow a private, for-profit company to file revocation petitions and obtain warrants as a collection tool.

They are asking Annis to find that the state law that allows state and municipal courts to employ private probation firms is unconstitutional.

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

MONTHLY FEES

Sentinel Offender Services is a privately owned company started in Marietta, Ga., in 1993. It employs more than 400 people.


Sentinel's contract with Augusta allows it to charge a $30 monthly probation supervision fee when it collects only money for the court. It can charge $35 a month for cases in which it also has supervision or monitoring services for conditions other than money.


Sentinel Area Manager Crystal Page estimated there are about 5,000 probationers at any point, and just more than 3,000 of them are compliant -- meaning they are paying on the fines and fees and doing anything else required by the court. If just those who are compliant pay the minimum supervision fee, the company would collect more than $1 million a year in Richmond County.

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wildman
1079
Points
wildman 01/26/10 - 04:19 am
0
0
Sentinel is a major rip off.

Sentinel is a major rip off. I understand one should not put themselves in a position to require this service but the cost of this service is thievery. There is no way someone walking out of jail can pay this and then it becomes a burden on family. Before the do-gooders start ranting let me say every family has one (or two) and everybody deserves a second chance if they have learned their lesson. The State needs to take another look at how they run this program.

wildman
1079
Points
wildman 01/26/10 - 04:20 am
0
0
Sentinel is a major rip off.

Sentinel is a major rip off. The cost of this service is thievery. Before the do-gooders start ranting let me say every family has one (or two) and everybody deserves a second chance if they have learned their lesson. The State needs to take another look at how they run this program.

Riverman1
82451
Points
Riverman1 01/26/10 - 05:03 am
0
0
Free Hills McGee! Free Hills

Free Hills McGee! Free Hills McGee! Free Hills McGee!

BakersfieldCityLimits
1
Points
BakersfieldCityLimits 01/26/10 - 05:53 am
0
0
The power of government

The power of government abused. Obama would be proud.

johnston.cliff
2
Points
johnston.cliff 01/26/10 - 06:02 am
0
0
How old should someone be

How old should someone be before they stop being a public nuisance? If his only income is a disability check of $245/mo, how can he afford to get drunk? Sounds like this guy needs mental assistance.

MarshCroaked
0
Points
MarshCroaked 01/26/10 - 06:11 am
0
0
cliff, ya just go down to the

cliff, ya just go down to the shop on East Boundary and tuck a bottle in your pocket then......oh wait....well then ya go sit on the curb in front of Fantasy Showgirls...oh wait.... hmmm. Good question!

Junket831
0
Points
Junket831 01/26/10 - 06:44 am
0
0
So, lets see if this makes

So, lets see if this makes sense. He is sentenced to 41 hours of community service which seems to be a fair sentence. He fails to follow through on the community service option and ends up in jail. What is the alternative at this point? Just let him go because he won't cooperate? That sends a wonderful message to the criminal element when it comes to behavior modification. This individual is a chronic nusiance. The problem shouldn't be ignored. He needs to be reminded to follow the laws and pay the fines or do the time. I have a solution to this problem that some won't like. Lets tax the lawyers to cover the costs of the fines and jail. Why, because the legal profession is at the root of the obscene costs for much of society. Those that benefit should help cover those costs.

stadry
0
Points
stadry 01/26/10 - 07:22 am
0
0
before we call the negotiated

before we call the negotiated contract amount charged for services rendered outrageous, consider this - what would the cost be IF there were public employees doing the work ? don't forget medical, sick/personal days, vacation, & retirement costs when doing the math ! also consider the difficulty in removing a public employee - we've seen the cost of that in recent firings. i suspect the cost IS market value for the work !

nofrills
0
Points
nofrills 01/26/10 - 07:43 am
0
0
This is a crime not only by

This is a crime not only by the Sentinel but by the judge who claims to be fair. How do you give a broke poor man a sentence that he can not pay? Its called a grudge sentence. The judge knew this man could not pay this when he sentenced him. This has been going on with the poor in our area for some time. I think the judges are getting a kick back but they call it a fee at the court house. Best inside joke around.

bentman
455
Points
bentman 01/26/10 - 08:05 am
0
0
How about just obeying the

How about just obeying the law in the first place. That way you don't pay anything.

sdrwtcn
0
Points
sdrwtcn 01/26/10 - 08:06 am
0
0
These fines and costs are

These fines and costs are also used for minor traffic offenses that a person may not be able to pay immediateley. They can turn a "no left turn" into a major crime if you don't immediately have the money to pay the fine. Lastly they will treat you as if you were a murderer while you are paying off your ticket. So be aware, you could find yourself seeing how it works.

sdrwtcn
0
Points
sdrwtcn 01/26/10 - 08:12 am
0
0
By the way, bring cash, Not

By the way, bring cash, Not checks or charge, if you are disputing a traffic ticket!

seenitB4
85830
Points
seenitB4 01/26/10 - 08:19 am
0
0
We need to find a way for

We need to find a way for them to work everyday while in jail,,clean the parks,,clean the roads,,paint,,on weekends do work in the schools..then maybe they can pay for the fees & their upkeep,

DEVGRU
0
Points
DEVGRU 01/26/10 - 08:24 am
0
0
Johnston.cliff - It's quite

Johnston.cliff - It's quite obvious he needs help. That's probably why he is a disabled veteran. Are you offering????

stillamazed
1488
Points
stillamazed 01/26/10 - 08:28 am
0
0
They should not give people

They should not give people probation that they know can't afford the fees, they should just let them serve out the time and be done with it. My dad is in a similar situation and due to the fact that he is on a fixed income he can't afford the extra money for his probation he is 69 years old and it isn't a serious crime, it was a misderminor, Sentinel is making threats to him now but because he is on Social Security if they issue a warrant for him due to the fees then his Social Security will stop his check. There needs to be a better way. And yes, if you are old and drawing Social Security and you get locked up the check stops even though your bills don't so who does the burden fall on? You guessed it the family........

hamstersplease
0
Points
hamstersplease 01/26/10 - 08:35 am
0
0
He FINISHED his community

He FINISHED his community service. He is sitting in jail because he couldn't pay for sentinel to supervise him. He is sitting in jail for being POOR. That's wrong.

ThisWorld
0
Points
ThisWorld 01/26/10 - 09:08 am
0
0
That's the way the rackett

That's the way the rackett goes down there. I guess RICO dosen't apply to Sentinel. Some bright minds figured out the worst way to burden the poor who can't afford to pay their fines. The judge say the fine is $600 plus court cost. During your first interview with the assinged p.o. you are told that the money you owe is now $1,500+. Go figure. Straight up the "A" . HIGHWAY ROBBERY LEGALLY! You real criminals still need to get your due. STOP THE VIOLENCE!!!!!

Little Lamb
45398
Points
Little Lamb 01/26/10 - 09:13 am
0
0
Pay the fine or do the time.

Pay the fine or do the time.

Georgiais1
0
Points
Georgiais1 01/26/10 - 09:16 am
0
0
He gets at least 243 a month.

He gets at least 243 a month. Pay the fine and be done with it. The poor is not the only ones pays fines. Maybe he will learn a lesson from this, maybe not. Quit making excuses for this guy.

CobaltGeorge
155679
Points
CobaltGeorge 01/26/10 - 09:18 am
0
0
"his only income is a monthly

"his only income is a monthly $243 disability check from the Department of Veterans Affairs." Why is this Veteran disabled" Way to honor our Veterans.

disssman
6
Points
disssman 01/26/10 - 09:20 am
0
0
Bakersfield I believe that

Bakersfield I believe that your CONServative buddies at state actually set this up. Just how did you wind up blaming the President for this. I wonder what would happen if the 5000 people would just say "I can't pay so put me in jail"?

truth-now
0
Points
truth-now 01/26/10 - 09:41 am
0
0
Paying a fine is an

Paying a fine is an alternative to jail time. It's a break, given by the judge. If you can't afford the fine, serve your time. Don't want to serve your time? DON'T DO THE CRIME.

CobaltGeorge
155679
Points
CobaltGeorge 01/26/10 - 09:50 am
0
0
Still waiting for an answer,

Still waiting for an answer, Why does this VETERAN have to do the crime. Public Drunkenness caused by...........?

themaninthemirror
0
Points
themaninthemirror 01/26/10 - 09:57 am
0
0
I agree with Johnston.Cliff's

I agree with Johnston.Cliff's 5:02am posting. If this man is a disabled veteran, which one can obviously determine by looking at his picture, he does need mental help. However the issue at hand is whether the private probation company should be able to lock him up for not paying probation fees. If he was under state probation he would be locked up for not paying probation fees, so it sounds like the private company is working under the same conditions. Obviously, the private company has to make a profit, because just like the state, they have to pay someone to administer the probation for this man, and once released from supervised probation the fees no longer have to be paid. The judge already gave this man a break by allowng him to perform community service in lieu of the fine, And he has to have some other kind of support, because one can't pay rent and buy groceries on $243 a month. If he can buy alcohol, he can pay a probation fee. It is time to quit feeling sorry for the dregs of our society and hold them responsible for their actions.

dominionfs
0
Points
dominionfs 01/26/10 - 10:00 am
0
0
Let's see if we can get real

Let's see if we can get real here. The man pleaded no contest on oct 23, 2008 to public drunkeness and obstructing an officer. He is back in court on jan 13, 2010 because he hasn't paid sentinel and has spent nearly two weeks in jail. Do you think perhaps the sentencing was held in Jan 2009? Sentinel claims he ows them $186 which would be FOUR MONTHS supervisory fees along with late fees. Wonder how much of his $243 monthly disability check he has spent on booze during the last year. Wanna bet it's more than enough to have paid his supervisory fees. I am tired of the 'He's poor- it's unfair cr@pola' He got a break with community service to pay court costs. Can't afford to pay your fine right now and you gotta pay your fine over time, then expect to pay interest coz you are getting a loan.Wildman says everyone should get a second chance if they have learned their lesson. This man is learning his right now. And if you are really set on giving everyone a second chance wildman, then hire Corduray to babysit your kids while you are at work.

ThisWorld
0
Points
ThisWorld 01/26/10 - 10:03 am
0
0
I too wonder what would

I too wonder what would happen if the 5000 probationers weren't able to pay their fines.

disssman
6
Points
disssman 01/26/10 - 10:09 am
0
0
I thought the state was able

I thought the state was able to collect "FEES" only to the extent of actual cost? If that is the case how could this company be allowed to make a profit? And if they are making a profit why does the state, which is broke, justify not making the same profit? The only thing that makes sense is payback to the lobbying crowd or a relative.

freespeech
0
Points
freespeech 01/26/10 - 10:11 am
0
0
Would you rather have a

Would you rather have a government run probation service that cost millions of our tax dollars? I'd rather the law breakers pay for their supervision out of their own pocket. If this fellow had showed up in court with money to pay his fine he wouldn't have been on probation, unless he is a repeat offender. All the probation company does is charge a small monthly fee to enforce what the court ordered. It creates jobs and saves OUR tax money.

themaninthemirror
0
Points
themaninthemirror 01/26/10 - 10:17 am
0
0
dissman, Think about it,

dissman, Think about it, isn't a fine a profit for the state anyway? If you get caught running a traffic signal, did it really cost the state any money for you to run the traffic signal? The cost was incurred when there was an officer nearby who witnessed you run the traffic signal, and then when you have to go to court, money has to come form somewhere to pay everyone involved in making sure we all obey the law, so aren't all fines really a profit?

southernguy08
499
Points
southernguy08 01/26/10 - 10:19 am
0
0
When the jail gets too full,
Unpublished

When the jail gets too full, they'll release him anyway. It happens everyday. If we had a legal system that actually put the fear of the law into the minds of criminal dirtbags, this wouldn't be a problem in the first place.

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