Sarah Geraghty, managing attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights, said the bill is “morally wrong.” She said pay-only probation cases require little effort from officers because they are essentially acting only as bill collectors for defendants who need a payment plan. If the companies aren’t satisfied with their profits, they can renegotiate their contracts with the local governments who hired them, Geraghty said.
“What they cannot do is to make up their losses by specifically targeting the poor for extra fees,” Geraghty said. “Remarkably, that is exactly what the companies attempt to do through this bill.”
Dunahoo and Cox couldn’t be reached immediately for comment.
The three-month cap on fees passed in 2015 came after an audit examining probation in Georgia, which has a higher rate of probation than any state and has been fertile ground for private probation companies since 2000. About 80 percent of 200,000 misdemeanor probationers in Georgia are supervised by private probation companies instead of by the state.
State Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, spoke favorably of the bill in the committee hearing. He said he knew of no other government contractor who would be asked not to bill for all their work.
“If we’re going to ask a contractor of the state to perform a service, there should be appropriate compensation,” he said.
Josh McLaurin, D-Sandy Springs, asked Cox what the cost was to supervise each of the pay-only probationers. Cox didn’t give a dollar amount, causing McLaurin to become suspicious. “We cannot rely on an invisible hand to tell us that the costs aren’t matching the benefits,” McLaurin said.
Vera Cheeks said she was troubled to learn of the HB 1040 proposal this week. Cheeks successfully sued the city of Bainbridge in 2015 for overzealous misdemeanor probation practices. She decided to sue after she couldn't pay a $135 ticket for running a stop sign. Because she couldn't pay, she was put on probation, causing the total she owed to balloon to $267 after probation fees. She's worried more people might end up in similar situations if the bill passes.
“It’s all about money for their pocket,” Cheeks said in an interview Tuesday. “People are so damn greedy.”