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The perils of private probation companies in Georgia

Probation is supposed to be a way to help low-risk offenders avoid jail time while paying their debt to society. Of course, those sentenced to probation must stay law abiding and fulfill all the requirements set forth by the court. This usually involves paying fines and checking in with their probation officer.

In the abstract, this may seem easy, but what happens when the probation company doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain? We use the term “probation company” instead of probation officer because a growing number of cases in Georgia are assigned to private companies tasked with monitoring a criminal defendant’s movements and progress. 

These assignments are made with a means towards efficiency; but in cutting costs some defendants are simply being sold into a system that punishes them further than a court would. Essentially, between fees owed to the court and to the probation company itself, a defendant may end up paying five times more than what was originally owed.

So for example, a defendant pleading guilty to drunk driving may be ordered to pay a fine and take alcohol education classes. But if he or she could not pay the fees immediately to the court, a probation company would be assigned to take the fees over the life of a payment plan. The company would also charge a surcharge for “monitoring fees.”

But what happens when a person cannot continually afford the probation company’s fees? Chances are that a recommendation would be made to revoke probation and send the defendant to jail, which simply exacerbates a difficult situation.

Because of this possibility, it is important to discuss with an experienced criminal defense attorney all details of a plea deal, including the expectations set forth for probation. 

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