Deal to Veto Private Probation Bill

April 29, 2014 16:51 pm

by Jon Richards · 8 comments

Over at the AJC, Greg Bluestein is reporting that Governor Nathan Deal intends to veto House Bill 837, the Private Probation bill that some said would limit public disclosure of information about private probation companies, and others saw as giving too much power to those companies over probationers.

In a statement, the Southern Center for Human Rights applauded the governor’s veto and explained many of the objections to the bill:

In courts around Georgia, people who are charged with misdemeanors and cannot pay their fines that day in court are placed on probation, most under the supervision of for-profit companies until they pay their fines. On probation, they must pay these companies substantial monthly “supervision fees” that may double the amount that a person of means would pay for the same offense. Private companies now supervise about 80 percent of all people on probation for misdemeanors in Georgia. Under the leadership of the private probation industry, Georgia has the highest rate of people on probation of any state in the country. Probation is preferable to debtor’s prisons, but the modern alternative is not too far removed.

HB 837, had it become law, would have expanded the reach of private probation even further. For example, it would have permitted private companies to require electronic monitoring for misdemeanor and traffic offenses like driving without a license, failing to stop at a stop sign, or possession of a small amount of marijuana. Private companies like electronic monitoring because it makes them huge profits. They routinely charge over $2,000 per year for such monitoring in misdemeanor cases. This is in addition to criminal fines, probation fees and surcharges. People with limited incomes cannot afford such costs and often face probation revocation and jail when they cannot pay. HB 837 would have allowed private probation companies to charge usury fees and then to get probationers’ sentences “tolled,” or extended, if they have not finished paying probation fees.

Not only would HB 837 have expanded private probation revenues, it specifically and explicitly made the amount of fees that these companies collect a state secret. Rather than place this process in the sunlight, HB 837 intentionally blocked members of the public and the media from being able to find out how much money the companies are charging citizens. The bill also exempted other information from public disclosure, such as the number of offenders under supervision and the number of warrants issued.

Any bills not vetoed by today will automatically become law without the governor’s signature.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

John Konop April 29, 2014 at 5:02 pm

A big thank you to Governor Deal! He did the right thing!

xdog April 29, 2014 at 5:35 pm

I believe Deal made the right decision here. If he was maybe guided in his veto by the campaign to come, I’m all right with that too.

Harry April 29, 2014 at 5:45 pm

Yes, thank you Gov. Deal. Georgia has just avoided a type of moral hazard trap where the probation company (the agent) acts on behalf of the government (the principal). The agent usually has more information about his actions or intentions than the principal does, because the principal usually cannot completely monitor the agent. The agent may have an incentive to act inappropriately (from the viewpoint of the principal) if the interests of the agent and the principal are not aligned.

Will Durant April 29, 2014 at 6:25 pm

This comes as a pleasant surprise to me and like xdog, I don’t care if it was because this is an election year or not. This one was rotten to the core. Meanwhile I think there are a few lobbyists that are going to have some ‘splainin to do. Wish I could be a fly on that wall.

WeymanCWannamakerJr April 29, 2014 at 8:05 pm

Thank you to Governor Deal. Georgia does not belong on the front page of the Human Rights Watch site along with Syria, China, Bulgaria, etc. I will even offer an olive branch to the Republican legislators that voted for it by acknowledging that even though they did have access to the HRW Profiting from Probation report they did not have access to the Georgia Department of Audits Report that was submitted only last week. Some of the sponsors and their obvious conflicts of interest that are the type that compounds daily, not so much.

notsplost April 30, 2014 at 7:34 am

I wasn’t even aware of this bad piece of legislation but thanks Gov. Deal for sending it to Davey Jones’ locker.

Special interests that seek to use government to enable their own profits at the expense of the general welfare are despicable and need to be given the harshest rejection possible. This may have changed my thinking in who to vote for Governor in the election.

Jon Lester April 30, 2014 at 10:32 am

Probation was already somewhat privatized when I went through it 15 years ago, so I, too, appreciate the governor’s sense of where limits should be. And of course he won’t be widely praised for it in the media, because this veto is too agreeable.

WeymanCWannamakerJr April 30, 2014 at 12:42 pm

From Human Rights Watch’s report on Profiting from Probation:
“The very origins of Georgia’s probation industry are bound up with a corruption scandal. Bobby Whitworth, then chairman of Georgia’s Board of Pardons and Parole was prosecuted and jailed for accepting an illegal payment of $75,000 from a probation firm called Detention Management Services (later acquired by Sentinel). The payment was allegedly in exchange for Whitworth’s efforts to help secure passage of the state law that transferred misdemeanor probation services from the state to individual counties in 2000—opening the door to the private probation industry in Georgia.”

Keep in mind that Whitworth wasn’t in the legislature himself, he merely worked to “help secure passage”. HB 837 had some significant bucks behind it but in the end the probation companies got their sponsors to lay it on way too thick. If Governor Deal hadn’t vetoed it then Jason Carter would have been supplied with almost nuclear ammo. It was a prudent decision and the right decision by the Governor. The Republicans in the legislature really should take a long look at a couple of their brethren on this one, they dodged a bullet even if they won’t admit it in public.