Georgia's private-probation industry responds

NOTE: The following is a response to my recent blogpost regarding the impact of Georgia's private probation industry. The author, John Prescott, is president of the Community Corrections Association of Georgia. In a related development, the Grantville Municipal Court judge who fined a woman $1,590 for forgetting to put her license-plate decal on her car has rescinded the fine.


In his recent blogpost, "Georgia's probation system has become an economic parasite", Jay Bookman suggests the private probation industry is responsible for the high number of misdemeanor probationers in Georgia.  Simply put, probation companies do not determine who gets put on probation.

And, in reality, there is no financial incentive for the courts to sentence anyone to probation services operated by a private probation company.... none.

The courts make all sentencing decisions. That includes who is sentenced to probation, drug screening, electronic monitoring, community service and incarceration.... not the probation provider. Public and private probation providers simply carry out the judge’s orders by monitoring, supervising and reporting back to the court the progress of the probationer through the term of their sentence.

To suggest that courts systematically boost up the number of people on probation just to help the finances of probation companies is ridiculous.

We agree that Georgia probation numbers appear higher than other states. But we believe it is more so rooted in how the data is recorded. For instance, we believe many of the offenders that commit crimes in different court systems are not recorded as one person committing multiple crimes, but rather as multiple offenders. Georgia lacks a shared integrated database of offenders between its numerous court systems. We believe duplicate reporting has artificially boosted misdemeanor probation numbers.

Lastly, Bookman takes another swipe at the fees collected by the probation industry while failing to mention a couple of key facts.  First, he fails to mention in the fees we collect, that a substantial portion of that fee goes to reimburse victims of crime through The Georgia Crime Victims Fund.  Also, in citing pay-only cases such as the one he mentions in the article, we are statutorily limited in fees we can collect for the work we do.  For instance, we may be responsible for collecting court ordered fines for 24 months, but we are only entitled to collect three months of fees regardless of the number of months necessary for the case to be paid in full.  We make our money providing services, and the pay-only collections we perform for the Courts is certainly not a profit center for our businesses.

Like any industry, the public and private probation industry has had its share of challenges. But it's also important to note that our industry is highly regulated, transparent, and has partnered with the courts to supervise a robust probation population at no cost to the taxpayer.

"Reforming" private probation operators out of business in Georgia will not decrease the number of people committing misdemeanor crimes, but it will surely make the taxpayers the victims with the burden of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of supervision costs for crimes committed against them in Georgia.