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Ga. Supreme Court OKs Private Probation, Denies Extending Sentences

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled on Monday that it was constitutional for private probation companies to monitor offenders but ruled it was illegal to extend sentences once imposed.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the state's High Court found that private probation supervision companies like Sentinel Offender Services were allowed to supervise misdemeanor probationers, but they couldn't extend their sentences. This ruling may impact the $40 million in supervision fees private companies collect from low-level offenders.

What are the details of this Georgia Supreme Court ruling?

No Due Process Violation

In its ruling in Sentinel Offender Svcs., LLC v. Glover et al. on Monday, the Court considered arguments by probationers that the state law allowing private probation supervision was unconstitutional. The law in question -- OCGA Section 42-8-100(g)(1) -- specifically allows county courts to contract with private probation services for the supervision of probationers and the collection of fees.

By outsourcing probation supervision for misdemeanors to private companies, the plaintiffs argued that this statute deprived them of due process of law. They warned that private probation officers had an ulterior motive for recommending that offenders remain on probation: Sentinel and similar companies made some serious cash from continuing to collect monthly probation fees.

The Georgia Supreme Court disagreed, stating that while probation officers are historically state agents, "the mere act of privatizing these services does not violate due process."

No Extended Sentences, but Monitoring OK

While the state's highest court did agree that private companies could manage misdemeanor probationers, they cannot leverage state law to impose additional time on probationers. The Statewide Probation Act, which allowed the probation sentences of felony offenders to be extended, was found not to be applicable to those misdemeanor offenders supervised by private companies.

On the other hand, electronic monitoring (like the bracelets used for DUI offenders) does not require statutory authority to be imposed, the court ruled. So long as the judge imposed electronic monitoring as part of the probationer's sentence, companies like Sentinel can carry it out -- and make probationers pay for it.

The Journal-Constitution reports that this ruling may affect up to 32 private probation companies in Georgia who are supervising "about 340,000 misdemeanor probationers statewide at any given time."

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