Special to SEGAZINE
Less than a week before a Senate committee stripped a bill of provisions that limited the fees private probation companies can charge, the owner of such a firm wrote a letter of recommendation for the Waynesboro state senator who headed the committee and is in line for a judgeship that will supervise people affected by the legislation.
In addition, three days before the legislative session began, state Sen. Jesse Stone received his largest single campaign contribution from the Georgia Association of Professional Bondsmen, according to his campaign contributions reports.
During the session, the Republican sponsored a bill that increases the fees these companies charge to post bonds, which are generally set by judges.
Stone is one of two candidates to become the next Burke County State Court judge. The court contracts with a private company, CSRA Probation Services, to supervise those on probation for misdemeanors.
On Feb. 18, the owner of CSRA Probation Services, Michael Popplewell, wrote a recommendation letter for Stone to the governor. Stone said he knew Popplewell intended to write the letter.
Stone qualified to run for re-election on March 6. On March 7, he announced that he would seek the State Court judgeship. Stone said Popplewell’s endorsement had nothing to do with what happened to the private probation bill after it was assigned to the judiciary non-civil committee, which he heads.
Stone said last week that he was trying to reach a compromise between those supporting private probation and those opposed to it. It isn’t perfect, Stone said, but both sides got some of the things they wanted.
“I respectfully disagree with Sen. Stone,” Sarah Geraghty, of the Southern Center for Human Rights, wrote in an e-mail. “This was a bill brought at the behest of the private industry. It was a huge win for the industry, which stands to profit enormously from its passage appointment.”
Chris Albin-Lackey, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch whose work led to a scathing report about private probation, called the bill “a shameless giveaway to the probation industry, not a compromise.”
“There isn’t an ounce of real reform in it,” he wrote.
As Stone pointed out, he didn’t introduce the bill. In its first draft, it directly referenced a ruling by Augusta Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Craig, who is assigned to more than a dozen civil rights lawsuits filed against the private probation company Sentinel Offender Services in Richmond and Columbia counties. Craig ruled in September that the law doesn’t allow such companies to perform electronic monitoring or to seek the indefinite extension of probation sentences.