Despite one councilmember’s objection about the fairness of having a for-profit company manage probation in the city court, the Brookhaven City Council recently voted to hire Georgia-based Professional Probation Services for the job.
Councilmember Linley Jones cast the lone vote against the contract, saying she didn’t believe a for-profit company could administer fair justice. The council voted 3-1 on Aug. 8 to hire PPS. The city had used Judicial Correction Services, which now is a subsidiary of PPS, city officials said.
“There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict of interest for a private corporation established as a for-profit company to run a probation system,” Jones, a trial attorney, said at the meeting.
A for-profit company exists to make money and a way to make money on probation is to keep people on probation, she said, which could lead to people unable to pay small fines being jailed.
“We as elected officials can’t do the level of supervision that is constitutionally [required] to do if we have a private corporation under contract to administer our justice for us,” she said. “I can’t support this.”
The city does not pay money to PPS to run its probation services. Instead, PPS makes money from the people who are on probation – and their fees can include anything from supervision costs to enrollment fees to court fees to the actual probation cost.
According to PPS, fees range from $35 to $75, depending on charges and level of supervision required. No-cost probation for indigent people can also be ordered by the court, according to PPS.
“The probation service contract is a ‘no cost’ contract to the city because the fees paid to the provider are paid by the individuals on probation,” said city spokesperson Burke Brennan. “The change of ownership [of JCS] did not drive the RFP process — the contract was put out to RFP based on purchasing best practice to let out the contract every three years.”
Private probation services have become controversial in recent years both nationally and locally.
In 2015, the ACLU sued JCS and DeKalb County in federal court on behalf of a DeKalb County teenager who was jailed because he could not afford to pay fines associated with a traffic ticket.
In 2016, the city of Decatur, Ala., was sued in federal court by four people on probation charged with traffic violations and misdemeanors who said they were jailed because they could not pay court fines and a probation fee to PPS, according to the Decatur Daily newspaper.
Decatur now handles its probation services in-house, and Jones said that is something she would like to see Brookhaven pursue.
In Brookhaven, city administrators put a bid out for contract of the probation services earlier this year and in May received four proposals from CSRA Probation Services, Integrity Supervision Services, JA&E Veterans Support Services and PPS, according to Assistant City Manager Steve Chapman.
A city evaluation committee interviewed representatives from three companies – CSRA, Integrity and PPS – and recommended awarding the contract to PPS, Chapman said. The contract runs through Dec. 31 with options to renew the contract for up to four additional one-year terms, he said.
Chapman said there are controls in place in the contract to ensure probation clients are not abused.
Councilmember John Park said he, too, was concerned about a for-profit company running the city’s probation services.
“I’m very concerned as a result of parole officers putting revenue in front of the well-being of defendants,” he said. “That being said, I’m heartened we have some controls in place and the contract can be terminated with 60 days’ notice.”
Councilmember Joe Gebbia praised the reputation of PPS, which was founded in Georgia by state Rep. Clay Cox (R-Lilburn). He said Jones raised good questions and said he supported bringing probation services in-house, if necessary.
“I have a high degree of confidence based on their history,” he said. “If we ascertain there is a problem, we will be ready if we want to bring it in house.”
PPS plans to open a new office in Brookhaven next to the police department and municipal court. PPS also has handled DeKalb County’s probation services for 24 years.