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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dominionfs
0
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dominionfs 01/26/10 - 10:32 am
0
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Not always being an angel in

Not always being an angel in my younger years, I learned my lesson when I realized that the price I had to pay for breaking the law was far greater than the benefit of breaking the law. I am glad to see others on here have the same idea.

peonynut
2
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peonynut 01/26/10 - 10:53 am
0
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The probation fee does not

The probation fee does not stop just because they went on non-supervisory status. That is just not true. Employees of Sentinel are given the green light to use almost any means necessary to collect those monthly fees. Threats are not uncommon only when a concerned person approaches a supervisor about the threats does the probation officer get dressed down so-to-speak and only then for the benefit of the concerned person. Sentinel has nothing to do with following the law; it is a greed based operation only.

butler123
1
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butler123 01/26/10 - 11:10 am
0
0
Let him do the 2 months, big

Let him do the 2 months, big deal, might be good for him.

windsor41
0
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windsor41 01/26/10 - 11:12 am
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let me see.he has to pay

let me see.he has to pay $186.it cost $45 a day to keep him in jail times 60 days(2 month)=$2700.i thimk the county could save $ 2514 and pay his fine.but we are in augusta ga and we like to spend taxpayers $$$.

windsor41
0
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windsor41 01/26/10 - 11:12 am
0
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let me see.he has to pay

let me see.he has to pay $186.it cost $45 a day to keep him in jail times 60 days(2 month)=$2700.i thimk the county could save $ 2514 and pay his fine.but we are in augusta ga and we like to spend taxpayers $$$.

cleanup
0
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cleanup 01/26/10 - 11:13 am
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Ludicrous racket. I hope

Ludicrous racket. I hope these lawyers close this enterprise down. I wonder how much the judges actually get in illegal kickbacks from Sentinel.

fishman960
1492
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fishman960 01/26/10 - 11:32 am
0
0
I wonder myself who owns

I wonder myself who owns Sentinel. Could it be an ex-politician? To me, certain things shouldn't be 'for profit'. Too much room for corruption.

TechLover
15
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TechLover 01/26/10 - 11:35 am
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We can thank "Rootin'

We can thank "Rootin' Tootin. I'm ready for a duel" Zell for this one. http://motherjones.com/politics/2008/07/probation-profiteers

mieshel
3
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mieshel 01/26/10 - 11:51 am
0
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I totally agree with you

I totally agree with you cleanup....

Frank I
1191
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Frank I 01/26/10 - 12:15 pm
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I was wondering how long it

I was wondering how long it would take for someone to do that math windsor.. considering he worked off the fines via community service he no longer had an obligation to "the state".. the $186 was for the "supervision" fees. with that logic, what he owes now is a fee to a private company, no different than if you owe a bank a fee for "services rendered". Only this company has the power to put you in jail? Debtors prison anyone?

MadSnapper
64
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MadSnapper 01/26/10 - 12:53 pm
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Maninthemirror you have to be

Maninthemirror you have to be kidding me! You can look at a picture and tell he is a disabled veteran? And all disabled veterans need mental help? To me he looks like 90 percent of the people in the Jail report every week.

helpicantfindthespacebar
1
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helpicantfindthespacebar 01/26/10 - 01:14 pm
0
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Why should the public be

Why should the public be forced to pay extra tax dollars for employees to monitor those that don't want to play by the same rules the rest of us obey? If you get caught for public drunk, speeding or any other stupid stunt you decide to pull, it's not MY fault and I shouldn't have to pay for it. How hard is that to understand?

jack
10
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jack 01/26/10 - 01:54 pm
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Wildman, I am one of those

Wildman, I am one of those "do gooders" that doesn't have "one or two of those" who are in and out of jail. He got a sentence of community service which he didn't peform, therfore should spend his time in jail. that's what happens to public drunks who interfere with law enforcement officers.

themaninthemirror
0
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themaninthemirror 01/26/10 - 01:58 pm
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MadSnapper, you do have a

MadSnapper, you do have a point, he does look like the everyday common lawbreaker down at 4th street. And, I imagine he was drunk at the time of this picture, as it does appear to be a mug shot. However, given the state of his affairs, he apparently does not possess the mental capacity to better himself. And if he does have an alcohol problem, doesn't that qualify as having a mental disability. Given the information that was disseminated in this article, he is surviving on disability benefits. As I have learned throughout my life, how one presents him/her self, is how society perceives one. You don't get a second chance at making a first impression. What is the old saying;"\a picture is worth a thousand words."

mooseye
266
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mooseye 01/26/10 - 01:59 pm
0
0
I agree that if you commit a

I agree that if you commit a crime you should be punished.
But in this case, and many others I'm sure, it seems that the state is spending $45 a day to force this guy to pay $39 a month.
Don't we have public defenders for indigent citizens? I think the fees should be prorated on a persons income and ability to pay. After all, a $50 dollar fine dosen't mean squat to some one making $45,000.00 a year, but to someone on a fixed income it can mean having heat and food and a roof over your head. Other things are based on income level, why not fines and court fees?

helpicantfindthespacebar
1
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helpicantfindthespacebar 01/26/10 - 02:18 pm
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mooseye, I agree to a point.

mooseye, I agree to a point. Maybe a person's income should be taken into consideration when determining making payments, but not the fine amount. Lower payments with more time to pay to make it easier for those on a fixed income, but they shouldn't have to pay less. Lower fines for the indigent would do nothing to deter them from future incidents. Higher fines based on income smacks of discrimination to me.

What4
0
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What4 01/26/10 - 02:22 pm
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Lawyers..public

Lawyers..public defenders..are complaining of the "racket?" The whole legal system is a racket!! Can't wait for him to be back among the law abiding citizens of his neighborhood.

alexgus
0
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alexgus 01/26/10 - 02:29 pm
0
0
I have been on probation for

I have been on probation for nearly a year and reporting to these people every 2 weeks along with giving them over $1000. I was charged with minor in possession of alcohol. they have been so extremely rude to me every time i come in while i am very polite. Sentinel Probation is the perfect business model because they will always have customers and they provide no service and they have the courts behind them funneling money into their hands. we as a people must stop this corruption.

baronvonreich
0
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baronvonreich 01/26/10 - 03:00 pm
0
0
Don't want to sit in jail or

Don't want to sit in jail or pay probation fines? Don't break laws. You want sympathy for being "disabled" and living the rest of your existence on the taxpayer teet? Don't spend taxpayer money on booze. Next.

Frank I
1191
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Frank I 01/26/10 - 03:56 pm
0
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whatever his transgression

whatever his transgression baron, that disability he receives is a direct result of giving up some portion of him being a whole and healthy person to those taxpayers.. and to you..

baronvonreich
0
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baronvonreich 01/26/10 - 04:17 pm
0
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If the "disabled" man can

If the "disabled" man can perform 41 hours of community service then he can get a J-O-B.

MomInRC
0
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MomInRC 01/26/10 - 05:30 pm
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I ditto what baron says.

I ditto what baron says. Assuming he has a drinking problem (which he may not), he could use what he might spend on alcohol to pay the fee or else jumpstart his sobriety in jail.

depdog1002002
0
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depdog1002002 01/26/10 - 05:43 pm
0
0
Listen. I was in an accident

Listen. I was in an accident (my fault) one time. I had all my fine in hand at court till the judge wanted me to pay $250 restitution so I couldnt pay it all there. I was forced to go see Sentinel services till I got the $250 from my next paycheck. They wanted me to pay the $35 supervision fee for one week. I had to go pay for another money order to get them off my back. I tried to challenge it in the office. They told me if I didnt pay I would go to jail. Its ridiculous because these honest people who make a mistake every now and then get ripped off for someone elses profit. This needs to end, NOW!

alexgus
0
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alexgus 01/26/10 - 06:13 pm
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And baron just because

And baron just because someone has broke the law does not mean they are to be forced to do things that are unconstitutional. you could find yourself in this position one day for not being able to pay traffic violations.

anonymous03
0
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anonymous03 01/26/10 - 06:18 pm
0
0
1. he didn't just not pay,

1. he didn't just not pay, he failed to report to probation.
2. If you get rid of private probation, then you have to have a state/locally funded probation office which would mean the taxpayers of Richmond County would be forced to foor the bill for the probation office and if you happen to be on probation and live in Richmond County, you would also have to pay the fee so that is basically double taxation.
3. If someone won't pay their fine, won't report to probation, and the jail says it is too expensive to house them, should we just abolish all misdemeanors and let everyone go because if you follow this argument, that is where you end up.
4. What are the real motives of Jack Long? The courts have already ruled that private probation is Constitutional so isn't he really the one wasting time?

Doyougetitnow
4
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Doyougetitnow 01/26/10 - 06:28 pm
0
0
I smell a Sentinel audit

I smell a Sentinel audit coming right after the States Attorney General starts getting complaints (in a non election year). Regardless of his crime (dumb as it was), public drunk is easy to charge, harder to prove, without an Intox. Obstruction is easy to charge & impossible to challenge without video tape. Sentinel is a ripoff. Can we say legal extortion? Way to treat our Vets! He's in the shape he's in because he gave a part of himself that some aren't willing to write a check (or do the same) for. Good thing he's got attorneys. My math says it's costing the taxpayers way more to house him than it would to pay his fine. He may or may not get sober in jail, but PTSD will outlast his sobriety without treatment.

Citizen_B
0
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Citizen_B 01/26/10 - 07:23 pm
0
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As soon as some people are

As soon as some people are allowed to start profiting on someone else going to jail...a lot more people will soon start ending up in jail.
Perhaps he should re-evaluate his priorities, ...but that's a poor justification for giving a private company so much power over anyone's freedom. And if it is so profitable, why not have the local government run it and keep those funds for public use?

disssman
6
Points
disssman 01/26/10 - 07:41 pm
0
0
Mirrorman there is no

Mirrorman there is no comparison between a fine and a fee. A fine is punishment, a fee is a cost for a service. You pay a fee when you renew your license. You pay a fine when you use that license illegally. I see where this felllow is a disabled veteran and am curious what the nature of his disability is. So I wonder is he a veteran of the wrong war, the one we are all trying to think didn't happen, and is that the basis for his drinking problem? I don't know, but if he started drinking because of it and got no help, shame on us, the U.S.Army, the VA, the state of Georgia and the United States of America, for forgetting that some folks couldn't handle what they saw in that war, just like the ones on our current war can't handle it either.

corgimom
33994
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corgimom 01/26/10 - 08:09 pm
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Alexgus, here's a hint. The

Alexgus, here's a hint. The law says it is illegal to drink if you are under 21. You chose to drink. You got caught. This is the way life works.

corgimom
33994
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corgimom 01/26/10 - 08:24 pm
0
0
You know, for all anyone

You know, for all anyone knows, his disability may have nothing to do with what he was arrested for. Being a veteran doesn't mean they don't have to obey the law, and being a disabled veteran doesn't mean he's special. I know veterans that are disabled because of their hearing. Or they had an eye injury. My father was rated partially disabled because of his back. You don't get special treatment just because you're a veteran, and being drunk in public has nothing to do with his military service. He was arrested for being drunk in public because he was, simply, drunk in public.

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