Tuesday night, Augusta city leaders debated the future of the city's probation services. Sentinel Offender Services contract with the city was set to expire on October 15th.
Augusta Commissioners ended up voting to keep Sentinel in Richmond County for one more year. The vote was recommended by Chief Richmond County State Court Judge Richard Slaby, but three commissioners didn't like the idea of using a private, for-profit probation company in the city.
"I'm disappointed. We have a company that has been in engaged in conduct that has lead to 10 lawsuits against them. We have a company that has taken a warrant out and locked some guy up for a $2 shoplifting charge in order for them to get their fees. It concerns me," Commissioner Donnie Smith says.
Smith says the fact that Columbia County and the Superior Court are no longer using Sentinel added weight to his decision to vote against a contract renewal.
According to Judge Slaby, all four Richmond County State Court Judges want to keep Sentinel for one more year.
That information is why Commissioner Alvin Mason voted to renew Sentinel's contract.
"It was basically just giving the respect and honor due to the judges who deal with this on a daily basis. I don't believe not a single one of them would do anything to hurt this community," Mason says.
Still, questions were raised about whether any of the four judges had a personal interest in keeping Sentinel in Augusta. Judge Slaby says those allegations are false. And now that Sentinel is set to stay in Augusta till the end of 2014, Smith is questioning why probation services aren't put out for bids.
"When we close the door to local participation and when we close the door to DBE, for people to do business with our government, when we shut the door in those people's faces, those who live and work here in our community, I think that is wrong. I think in time, we should come back and revisit this," Smith says.
Many of the lawsuits against Sentinel are challenging the constitutionality of private probation services. Opponents say the companies charge fees that most people on probation can't afford to pay.
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