Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Georgia's probation system has become an economic parasite

Go read the story by my colleague Rhonda Cook about the travails of Linda Ford, a Coweta County resident who forgot to put the decal on her license plate proving that she had updated her vehicle registration. Ford  was stopped by an officer, given a ticket and ordered to appear in Grantville Municipal Court.

She ended up being hit with a $1,590 fine for that memory lapse. That's a lot of money for someone working as a baggage handler at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

But that's not the worst of it. Because Ford couldn't pay the fine all at once, Grantville Municipal Court Judge Lisa Reeves put her on probation, which means that in addition to the fine, Ford also has to pay a private probation company $44 a month to "monitor" her.

As Cook reports:

"While Ford is on probation, she must “avoid persons or places of disreputable character” and cannot move without her probation officer’s permission. She must also submit to a breath, urine or blood test if her probation officer orders one, and it will be at her expense."

Drug tests and probation officer for someone who forgot to put a decal on her car? Ridiculous, right?

Right. But it's not as ridiculous as this:


As the Prison Policy Initiative notes:

"Georgia’s rate of probation is more than double every other states’ rate of probation and greater than every other states’ total rates of correctional control. One reason why Georgia’s use of probation has ballooned to these levels is that the state uses privatized probation, which unnecessarily puts Georgia residents with extremely minor offenses on probation."

In short, Linda Ford is not an anomaly. She is not the exception. Some 460,000 Georgians -- far more than in any other state -- have been sentenced to the state's privatized probation system. Each of them is paying a monthly fee to those companies for "monitoring" that has no real justification.

And if you're shocked by this, don't be naive. If you privatize a government function, you create a very strong profit motive to require and supply more of it. As the chart above illustrates, Georgia's politically powerful privatized probation industry has grown well beyond reasonable bounds and has become a vampire sucking the economic lifeblood from Georgians already struggling to stay afloat financially.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.