Manager Callanan and Members of the Board,
As a lifelong Effingham resident and on behalf of Americans for Prosperity Georgia (AFP), I write you to express my concerns over the proposal to shift Effingham County’s probation services and fee collection to a third-party company. AFP advocates for the taxpayer, and I applaud your effort to look for ways to lessen the burden on the taxpayers of Effingham County.
However, this proposed shift in policy has been undertaken in other counties in Georgia and across the country and has led to individuals staying on supervision much longer than necessary for public safety, substantially increasing the financial burden probationers owe to the government, and has led individuals back into jail or prison simply due to their inability to pay the exorbitant fines, fees, and other costs. As you know, the cost to house and incarcerate individuals is high, and when they aren’t a danger to the public, the costs to taxpayers are questionable. We ask the Board of Commissioners to either vote against this measure or delay the vote until proper safeguards can be implemented to help avoid the negative consequences that have plagued similar agreements here in Georgia and across the nation.
Georgia has the highest probation rate in the nation, over three times the national average. There are many reasons for this, including 1) the lack of caps on how long the length of probation can be; 2) unlike the vast majority of states, Georgia treats all traffic tickets as criminal offenses and are thus eligible for probation and revocation to jail; and 3) Georgia is one of the only states that allows for local jurisdictions to outsource their misdemeanor probation supervision to a private entity.
These factors have created an untenable probation system that compromises public safety by limiting the bandwidth of probation officers to supervise high-risk individuals, while driving a significant number of people to jail and prison due to non-criminal violations of their probation, such as failing to pay fines, fees, or other costs, even if they can’t afford them.
The evidence from other jurisdictions shows how private probation services dramatically increase the financial burden on probationers. A 2022 report from the news outlet In These Times detailed how private probation services in Clayton County led to devastating consequences for individuals, even for traffic-related offenses that have little to do with public safety. The article highlights a woman who was arrested for failing to appear for court for minor traffic offenses over a ten-year period. She was given five years of probation, carried out by a private probation service. Her fines for the traffic offenses totaled $2,266, which she could not afford. Her supervision fees were over $2,600 over five years, much of which would go directly to the private probation company. She would have never been put on probation if she could afford the fine at the time of her arrest and would have been taken off probation if she paid her fine in full. This shows that those without means end up paying significantly more and risk being arrested and jailed for nonpayment.
It is clear that the move towards outsourcing probation services in Effingham County has little to do with public safety and is an attempt to cut costs and increase revenue. It’s no surprise that Georgia’s probation population increased significantly as private probation continued to expand across the state as each month a probationer is on supervision is more opportunity to receive money from them. Additionally, people are often kept on probation just because they can’t afford to pay their fines and fees. The system has been criticized for years and has been the subject of several lawsuits and audits in Georgia.
If the county wishes to implement this strategy, they need to put in guardrails to ensure that Effingham County’s probation system doesn’t fall into the same mistakes as others. The county should pause on this initiative and look at implementing 1) ability to pay inquiries for each probationer so that people can afford their payments as well as essential costs in their life like food, shelter, etc.; 2) cap the amount of time a person can be on probation; 3) limit arrest and incarceration for failing to pay fines, fees, and other costs (unless the person can afford it and is willfully not paying); 4) limit or eliminate any fees not associated with public safety and are simply for revenue collection; and allow for waiver of financial obligations or create payment plans for those who cannot pay and are on probation simply because they can’t pay their fines in full.
We urge you to look at the experiences of other jurisdictions in Georgia, avoid these consequences, and implement provisions that will ensure probation does not lead people into a cycle of debt and incarceration.
For these reasons, Americans for Prosperity Georgia respectfully requests that members of the Board oppose this proposal in its current form.
Grassroots Engagement Director
Americans for Prosperity—GA