AJC Watchdog: First Alert

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Consent order reached in case challenging urine screens

Plaintiffs who accused a probation company of illegally forcing them to take and pay for urine screens got part of what they were seeking Thursday.

Sentinel Offender Services denied the accusations, made in a lawsuit filed in February. But in a consent order signed Thursday by U.S. District Judge Richard Story, Sentinel agreed it would not require drug screens of probationers in White County unless the tests have been authorized in writing by the court.

The pending lawsuit, filed by Southern Center for Human Rights, accused Sentinel of forcing drug tests on a 62-year-old grandmother and a 45-year-old mother of nine who were both on probation in White County to pay off fines for “driving while unlicensed.”

"If there is a legitimate government interest in testing probationers' bodily fluids and charging them for it, an impartial judge, not a private company, should make that determination applying constitutional limitations," said Sarah Geraghty, an attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights, who is representing the plaintiffs.

Both plaintiffs were placed on probation because they could not afford to pay their fines on the day they went to court, Geraghty said. In Georgia, judges use probation as a system to collect fines over time from low-income people who can't afford to pay immediately.

The consent order achieved an initial goal of the lawsuit. The order is in place until the case is resolved or until the court issues another order.

"We appreciate that Sentinel took steps to resolve this issue going forward," Geraghty said.


PREVIOUS COVERAGE: AJC's coverage of the lawsuit when it was filed.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Georgia leads the nation in probation. 

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About the Author

Carrie Teegardin is on the investigative team. She is a graduate of Duke University and has won numerous national journalism awards.