CLEVELAND, Ga. – Probation service fees can be very profitable to probation companies and very detrimental to the poor and elderly even if their violations are as minor as a traffic offense or violation of a county ordinance. Which is why area residents may want to attend the White County Board of Commissioners work session Monday at 4:30 p.m.
Commissioners will discuss assignment of a probation services agreement with Sentinel Offender Services, a company forced to settle dozens of lawsuits that accused the company of wrongful arrests and incarceration. In February, the California-based company settled a federal civil rights lawsuit for $2 million.
Augusta attorney Jack Long, is very familiar with Sentinel. His clients have settled cases against the company for $200,000, $150,000 and $74,000 and he has more lawsuits pending in Columbia County and Brunswick.
He told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently that his clients only took the company’s settlement offers because — from their perspectives — it was a lot of money, even after legal expenses were deducted. “These people have never had more than $2,000 to $3,000 in hand at one time. We’re dealing with poor folks who have not seen money,” Long said.
Two of those victimized by Sentinel live in White County, 62-year-old Rita Luse and 45-year-old Marianne Ligocki.
Ligocki’s offense was driving on a suspended license. She pleaded guilty and was fined $313. Sentinel charged her a $44-a-month supervision fee and $15 each time they made her take an unnecessary urine test.
Luse pleaded guilty to driving without a license. She was fined $775 and put on probation until she could pay. She, too, gave Sentinel extra fees for supervision and drug testing, even though the White County Probate Court judge did not order it.
In their lawsuit, the women said that in addition to the extra financial burden, they were humiliated. They said they were forced to give urine samples while someone watched and sometimes in a room with the door open. If they didn’t give the sample and pay for it, the Sentinel probation officer told them, they would be jailed, according to the complaint.
The Southern Center for Human Rights filed a class action lawsuit against Sentinel and, in January, U.S. District Judge Richard Storey “conditionally” signed off on the agreement that Sentinel would pay $80,000 to reimburse Luse, Ligocki and any others who submitted to drug testing that was not court-ordered.
A called meeting will follow immediately after the work session.