Probation Firm Found in Violation; Arrest Threats, Overcharges Cited in Review of Company Serving Darien

By Dickson, Terry | The Florida Times Union, December 12, 2014 | Go to article overview

Probation Firm Found in Violation; Arrest Threats, Overcharges Cited in Review of Company Serving Darien


Dickson, Terry, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Terry Dickson

A private probation office falsely told McIntosh County and Darien probationers they were to be arrested for nonpayment of fees, let probationers buy out of community service, collected more in fines than judges imposed and collected dismissal fees on active warrants, a state review shows.

After conducting its compliance review of South Georgia Probation, the Administrative Office of the Courts informed its director, Shea Smith, of its findings of violations and gave her 20 days to respond.

The Times-Union obtained a copy of the review through a Georgia Open Records request.

An executive summary in the 12-page report said that Smith had "not claimed responsibilities for the apparent deficiencies presented and has offered multiple excuses for South Georgia Probation's findings."

Throughout the review, Smith gave misleading statements and omitted facts, the summary said.

A South Georgia Probation staff member told the Times-Union Thursday that Smith was out of the office and likely in court. Smith did not respond to a message to call the Times-Union.

Some of the findings are in line with a recent Georgia Supreme Court decision that said private probation companies cannot put fee collections on hold - a practice called tolling - beyond the maximum sentence of 12 months' probation for a misdemeanor conviction. As a result, some defendants had been arrested for nonpayment of fees sometimes years after the end of their probation.

South Georgia Probation supervises defendants that Darien Municipal Court and McIntosh County State Court judges place on probation. The company does so under contract, but the review concerned only the city court, City Manager Brett Cook said.

Cook said he had heard no complaints and was unaware of issues with South Georgia Probation until he received a copy of the Administrative Office of the Courts compliance review last month.

"I've had no reason to believe anything inappropriate was going on,'' but Cook acknowledged that defendants likely didn't know they were being overcharged.

As a result, he has asked the city attorney to review the contract with Smith, Cook said.

Cook said his office has the right to conduct an independent audit of South Georgia Probation but that he will likely wait until the Administrative Office of the Courts, which licenses probation officers, completes its compliance process.

"We're going to wait until they finish their investigation to determine whether the city itself needs to investigate further,'' Cook said. "We're going to let due process play out. …

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