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Columnist didn’t get it right on probation

POSTED: May 22, 2014 7:22 p.m.

Dear Editor,

The recent column, “This time they did it right,” ignored numerous benefits provided by the private probation industry in Georgia. Probation companies deliver a cost-effective and valuable service that enhances public safety, while supervising approximately 250,000 probationers and working with more than 600 municipal, state, probate and superior courts.

The author attempts to suggest that a $2,000 a year probation charge is typical, when in fact charges that high are rare and often related to electronic monitoring (which is not required for a large majority of misdemeanor probationers). Also, the columnist cites a recent state audit report that was critical of the system; however, he failed to recognize private probation companies have already taken several steps to implement positive changes.

The industry remains a highly effective component of Georgia’s justice system, but there’s room for improvement. For example, some providers are already working to implement best practices such as a signed contract with every court for which a company provides services, and clearly setting fees, performance standards and guidelines for probationers and service providers. Also, increased transparency during the selection of providers and improved reporting about the status of all probationers should be widely embraced.

Other best practices include courts establishing criteria for determining if an offender is indigent and which offenders meet that definition. Additionally, a multi-tiered fee scale with lower monthly fees for offenders ordered only to pay fines is one of several ways the systems could be further strengthened.

In closing, every private probation provider in Georgia wants the system to be the best it can. We recognize that by continuing to enhance transparency and accountability, private probation providers will best be able to benefit offenders, courts and the communities we serve.

Mark Contestabile
Sentinel Offender Services

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