Georgia probation firm closing amid lawsuit, compliance check


A South Georgia probation company accused in a lawsuit of wrongfully detaining poor people will be closing its operation next month.

Red Hills Community Probation, which handles misdemeanor probation supervision for five small courts, informed state regulators that it will close in June, according to emails obtained Wednesday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The company’s decision came as the County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council (CMPAC), which regulates probation providers, was in the midst of a compliance review of Red Hills.

Red Hills is also facing a federal lawsuit, filed in April, that alleges it conspired with police officers to demand day-of-court payments from poor defendants at municipal courts in Bainbridge and Pelham. The actions resulted in false imprisonment, unlawful imprisonment for debt and other violations of rights, according to the lawsuit, which was prepared by attorneys at the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights. The cities of Bainbridge and Pelham are among those named as defendants.

Maggie Crutchfield, the CEO of Red Hills, told the AJC Wednesday that she made a personal decision to close her company.

“Private probation is changing and it will be very difficult for small companies such as myself to provide the quality of service that these probationers deserve with the new law and the public perceptions,” Crutchfield said.

Gov. Nathan Deal this month signed into law a bill that will require significant changes this year to the state’s misdemeanor probation sytem, especially when it comes to handling indigent defendants. Thousands of Georgians are placed on probation simply to give them time to pay off traffic tickets that they couldn’t afford on the day they went to court.

Adel Edwards, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, came to court in Pelham after getting a ticket for burning leaves in his yard without a permit. Judge Joshua Bell ordered Edwards, who is disabled and destitute, to pay a $500 fine, spend 12 months on probation and pay Red Hills $44 a month in probation fees.

The lawsuit alleges that the probation company told Edwards to make an immediate payment on his case or go to jail. Edwards had no money and was jailed until a friend paid $250 to get him out, according to the lawsuit.

Red Hills denies the allegations, saying it suggests initial payments but does not require them. Bell, the judge, has declined to comment.

In emails obtained by the AJC, a state compliance officer noted that a review of records showed that most probationers made substantial down payments to Red Hills.

“We’re hopeful that the cities will arrange for a new [probation] provider that better respects the rights of indigent defendants,” said Sarah Geraghty, a senior attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights.

Geraghty filed a complaint with state regulators last fall alleging that Red Hills had required a day-of-court payment from an indigent defendant placed on probation to pay off a traffic ticket. State regulators responded to that complaint by saying they investigated the case and found no evidence of wrongdoing.

“We hope that in the future, CMPAC will devote sufficient resources to monitoring so that abuses like those described in the Red Hills lawsuit aren’t allowed to persist unchecked for years on end,” Geraghty said.

.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

VIDEO: Athens-Clarke County police ‘reviewing facts’ of officers restraining young boy
VIDEO: Athens-Clarke County police ‘reviewing facts’ of officers restraining young boy

Athens-Clarke County police are investigating the circumstances behind a viral video of two of its officers restraining a young boy. “We have been made aware of a video that is making its way around social media involving two of our officers,” police said Monday on Facebook. Police plan to issue a statement on the matter later Monday, spokesman...
BREAKING: Gwinnett man arrested in shooting of woman found dead at gas station
BREAKING: Gwinnett man arrested in shooting of woman found dead at gas station

A Lilburn man has been arrested in connection with the death of a woman shot in a car in Gwinnett County last week. Visheslav Feder, 29, was taken into custody in Arkansas on Saturday and is facing charges of murder and aggravated assault, Gwinnett County police said Monday. He remains in custody there. The woman, 25-year-old Avery Birthrong of Lilburn...
Search continues for woman missing at Lake Lanier
Search continues for woman missing at Lake Lanier

Authorities will continue the search Monday for a woman who tired while swimming in Lake Lanier and could not make it back to her boat. The 31-year-old had jumped off a sailboat to go for a swim Sunday and the boat drifted away from her, according to the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.  Deputies and fire services were called to the lake between...
Chattahoochee Hills residents to discuss millage rate
Chattahoochee Hills residents to discuss millage rate

The mayor and city council for the City of Chattahoochee Hills recently announced its intention to set the millage rate at 10.00 mills, according to a press release. That’s the same rate as 2017 when the millage rate was rolled back from 10.958. A discussion has been set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 7 in the Council Chambers, 6505 Rico Road, Chattahoochee...
Section of Henry County’s Lake Dow Road to close for repairs
Section of Henry County’s Lake Dow Road to close for repairs

Henry County officials are planning for close Lake Dow Road between Allie Drive and Monroe Drive, at the east end of Georgia National Country Club, for several months for necessary repair work. The actual construction will involve raising Lake Dow Road a minimum of four feet and will take 3-4 months to complete (depending on weather). Engineering design...
More Stories