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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luckie
2
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luckie 01/26/10 - 09:16 pm
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The system here is pathetic.

The system here is pathetic. Having been around the world and raised in a large city, this area is giving up jail space for minor misdeameanor charges that would never hold up in a real city and the welfare/unemployed/lack of assests/ or homelessness/ gets a slap on the wrist and walks. The middle class gets slammed.

airbud7
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airbud7 01/26/10 - 09:47 pm
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In S C you have 30days to pay

In S C you have 30days to pay your fine or go to jail for 14days then its all over no misdemeanor probation.

baronvonreich
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baronvonreich 01/26/10 - 09:56 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.
Posted by alexgus on Tue Jan 26, 2010 5:13 PM ---- lol. First of all none of this is unconstitutional. You might want to read the Constitution. Secondly if someone can't pay a traffic fine or a $250 fee without waiting for their next check then they have much bigger problems in how they are living their life.

gargoyle
20968
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gargoyle 01/26/10 - 10:01 pm
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Misdemeanor charges at one

Misdemeanor charges at one time could mean a fine and possibly "Unsupervised probation " ... Supervised probation was reserved for Felons ... Now the powers that be choose to pad the coffers of a private entity every chance they get .... There's allot of unsupervised money flowing through supervised probation .

JamesJMcGee
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JamesJMcGee 01/26/10 - 10:02 pm
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Private companies should

Private companies should never have any power to lock someone up over not paying a bill.

trouble706isBack
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trouble706isBack 01/26/10 - 10:07 pm
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You are 100% right on that

You are 100% right on that gargoyle. Rumor, for what it is worth, has it that Sentinel is owned or managed by Judge Watkin's wife. I don't know if that is true. But if so, seems strange that he sentences so many people to supervision under Sentinel..........Some things just make you go Hmmmmm........

corgimom
38469
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corgimom 01/27/10 - 12:41 pm
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Trouble, it's always nice to

Trouble, it's always nice to have a convicted criminal tell us that we do not have a grip on reality. And I've never been in jail. I've never been arrested. You have. And you think that I"M stupid? You can't make this stuff up! This stupid person obeys the law. Because I'm smarter than you are, I know how to control myself so that I don't have to hand a bunch of my money to the court. Trouble, keep posting, I love it!

corgimom
38469
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corgimom 01/27/10 - 12:51 pm
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"The system here is pathetic.

"The system here is pathetic. Having been around the world and raised in a large city, this area is giving up jail space for minor misdeameanor charges that would never hold up in a real city and the welfare/unemployed/lack of assests/ or homelessness/ gets a slap on the wrist and walks. The middle class gets slammed." Ah, another guest of 401 speaks. Please, luckie, go back to your "real city", we got along without you when you were living "around the world" and in your "real city" and we can get along without you now. Some of us remember what Augusta used to be like, and want it that way again-where you could go anywhere in Augusta and not have to worry.

corgimom
38469
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corgimom 01/27/10 - 02:03 pm
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Trouble, I never made any

Trouble, I never made any supportive comments about Sentinel. Show me one "supportive comment". And you're talking about ME getting a grip on reality? Let me tell you about reality. Reality is that the vast majority of people DON"T go to jail. Because they have enough intelligence to stay out of trouble. Because they know nothing is worth it. That's reality. The reality is that there is only a very small minority of people that get into trouble and go to jail. Keep calling me stupid, it works for me. I think it's sad that you think that's the reality, that most people get in trouble with the law. They don't. And it's been my experience- like most people's- the ones that say other people are judgmental and on a pedestal- they are the repeat customers. You still haven't learned much. That is just plain sad. And the fact that you feel the need to come on here and brag about your gross income is just plain ooky. Ugh.

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