the sentinelsA critical legal battle is taking place in Richmond County, Georgia over the issue of private corrections corporations running probation and electronic monitoring programs in the criminal justice system. Sentinel Offender Services, which runs electronic monitoring and probation for people with misdemeanor convictions from 40 offices nationwide, is the defendant in multiple law suits. The firms has been accused of violating peoples probation in order to extend the length of supervision time and thereby collect extra monthly fees for services. In September, appellate court Judge Daniel Craig ruled that a private company should not be allowed to run electronic monitoring programs or do “tolling”- extending a person’s probation because of apparent violations of the conditions of supervision. Moreover, plaintiffs in several of the suits  alleged that sometimes people on probation were not informed of the violation but were kept on probation after their term expired without their knowledge.  However, allegedly the violation was entered into police files and if the individual was subsequently pulled over by police, even several years later, they would be billed for being on probation for the intervening period.

On October 24th, the Georgia Supreme Court overruled Judge Craig’s ruling and reinstated Sentinel’s powers to run probation programs as well as electronic monitoring. This case has major ramifications for the role of private corrections companies in post-release supervision. If private companies have a financial incentive to extend an individual’s probation or time on electronic monitoring, there is a clear cut conflict of interest if they also have the “tolling” powers.

At the moment it is unclear if lawyers for the plaintiffs will ask the court to reconsider. However, more than a dozen civil suits against Sentinel in Richmond and Columbia county remain in the courts.

For more info on this go to:  http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/crime-courts/2013-10-24/supreme-court-returns-powers-sentinel-offender-services  and for the decision by Judge Craig:  http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/crime-courts/2013-09-16/private-probation-company-dealt-costly-blows-judges-ruling

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