Tag Archives: Probation

AP’s TN-oriented story on probation privatization

By Adam Geller and Sharon Cohen, AP National Writers
MURFREESBORO, Tennessee — Outside the $200-a-week motel room that Steven Gibbs and his family call home, the afternoon sun sparkled. Inside, though, he had the curtains pulled tight. After working third shift at a round-the-clock McDonalds, his wife, Debbie, sat on the edge of one bed, her eyes closed. But the hour didn’t matter.

“Half the time I’m scared to go outside the door,” said Gibbs, 61, a former construction worker jailed twice since late 2013 after he couldn’t pay hundreds of dollars in probation fees for driving on a suspended license. Despite a court order barring the county and a private probation company from jailing him again, those fears lingered.

“I don’t trust none of them anymore,” Gibbs said, in late January. The company continued charging him fees until last week, when a judge agreed to put him on a new plan, supervised instead by the court, to pay down fines he owes the county.

Probation is supposed to substitute for jail or prison, requiring offenders to report regularly and maintain good behavior. But in this fast-growing county outside Nashville and more than a dozen states, probation for misdemeanors is a profit-making — and increasingly contentious — venture.

Those with cash to pay fines when they’re convicted often avoid supervision, while poor offenders can be snared in a cycle of debt and punishment. Critics of for-profit probation say it can create a modern “debtor’s prison.”

Rutherford County is just the latest hotspot in a widening debate over this system, which has spurred numerous lawsuits demanding change. Some communities have abandoned for-profit probation, others are vowing reform.
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UPDATED: Lawsuit leads to release of 13 inmates

A U.S. District Court judge in Nashville has ordered the release of some 13 Rutherford County jail inmates who were arrested for violation of probation, reports the Daily News Journal. The move comes in a lawsuit that contends the private company running the county’s probation service uses wrongfully charges high fees that put people in jail when they cannot pay.

Lawyers representing seven people on probation asked for an injunction in November that would stop Providence Community Corrections and county authorities from issuing arrest warrants with a bond requirement when people can’t afford to pay, then holding them in jail. PCC is now doing business as Pathways Community Corrections.

Sharp granted that request but took his orders a step further and ordered all “the Rutherford County Sheriff … to release from custody any PCC, Inc. probationer who is currently in custody solely on the basis of a PCC, Inc. violation of probation warrant and is being held pending revocation of probation proceedings on the basis of” either non-payment of fees only or a preset, secured-money bond.

Officials from the Sheriff’s Office have said previously that about one-fifth of the jail’s inmates are being held on charges from PCC. The jail has a maximum capacity of 958. It is not known at this time how many inmates are affected or how the Sheriff’s Office will determine who is eligible for release.

The injunction was requested as part of a class-action case brought against Providence Community Corrections, which oversees probation for misdemeanor and traffic offenders, and Rutherford County. County officials have said their practices are legal.

UPDATE: The DNJ reports that 13 inmates were released under the judge’s order, HERE.

TDOC’s ‘Operation Cleanup’ nets 24 arrests in JC

The Tennessee Department of Correction is conducting vehicle searches at probation offices statewide, reports the Johnson City Press. In a search this week at the Johnson City office, 24 persons were arrested.

The intensive search was done in the parking lot of the TDOC District 10 field office, located on Freckles Court in North Johnson City, according to TDOC spokesman Robert Reburn.

“This state-wide operation is named “Operation: Clean Up” and has resulted in the search of more than 900 vehicles to date, with 341 of the searches being conducted yesterday in Johnson City,“ Reburn said. ”Every vehicle that was searched had an offender in it.“

State law and TDOC policy allows the agency to search any inmate, visitor or employee or their vehicles while on state property.

Reburn said the local sweep resulted in 24 arrests on charges including drug possession and felony probation/parole violation. In addition, more than 35 citations were issued on charges including suspended/revoked license and drug paraphernalia.

”This operation illustrates TDOC’s commitment to the community by ensuring that the offenders on community supervision are held accountable for their actions,“ Reburn said.

In addition to TDOC probation and parole officers, including Strike Force and K-9 units that led the operation, other agencies involved in the sweep were officers from the Northeast Correctional Complex, the Johnson City Police Department and Washington County Sheriff’s Department.

The 24 arrest warrants served included 19 probationer arrests with these charges: one harassment, one manufacturing a controlled substance, two driving on a revoked license, one grand jury indictment, two for failure to pay child support, one simple possession/casual exchange, two failure to appear and nine felony or misdemeanor violation of probation.

There were also four non-probationers arrested on these charges: one failure to appear, two driving on a suspended license and manufacture/delivery/selling a controlled substance, one driving on a revoked license and one grand jury presentment on an unknown charge.

There were also 36 misdemeanor citations issued, 22 of which were given to probationers.

TDOC making trick-or-treat check on sex offenders

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Department of Correction says it has launched Operation Blackout, an annual initiative to protect trick-or-treaters from registered sex offenders.

A TDOC statement says probation parole officers have teamed up with local police to conduct random visits and compliance checks across the state to make sure that sex offenders are following strict guidelines for the Halloween season.

During the first night, officers checked on 300 sex offenders, which resulted in one arrest, one citation, and four violations. TDOC says it plans to check on 3,500 sex offenders statewide through Oct. 31.

Judge issues order blocking arrests in Rutherford lawsuit

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has issued a restraining order preventing two Rutherford County men from being arrested because they cannot pay court fines.

The Tennessean reports (http://tnne.ws/1OgHsoF) the men are two of seven plaintiffs accusing Providence Community Corrections of extorting money from probationers by threatening to send them to jail.

The company contracts with Rutherford County to supervise people on probation in misdemeanor and traffic cases. The lawsuit filed Thursday says it is illegal in Tennessee to revoke probation for someone who is unable to pay court costs, but Providence employees routinely threaten to do this. The suit says plaintiffs have lost homes, jobs and cars in order to pay the company.

The company responded with a written statement saying, “We steadfastly comply with the laws governing the probation system.”

Change in state probation supervision praised by prof after being panned by DA, state rep

East Tennessee State University Assistant Criminal Justice Professor Dr. Jennifer Pealer is applauding the Tennessee Department of Correction’s new supervision standards, which include less supervision for low-risk offenders who are on probation and parole, reports Johnson City’s WJHL-TV.

“When I heard about it I was actually very happy that DOC has implemented this type of policy, because it’s actually bringing Tennessee aligned with what the research shows we should be doing and this research has been around for many years,” she said.

The major policy shift now dedicates most of the state’s resources to supervising higher risk offenders, while giving so-called lower risk offenders, including some convicted first and second-degree murderers in our area, a longer leash. TDOC determines an offender’s risk using an assessment program.

Although some fear the change increases the risk to the public, Dr. Pealer, who specializes in corrections, believes the new policy is best for public safety.

“It’s what the research calls the risk principal,” Dr. Pealer said. “Research is pretty clear that the severity of crime is not that big of indicator about whether they’re going to go out and re-offend. Most murderers do not go out and re-offend. The beauty of the Tennessee Department of Correction’s policy is that they are not basing it on their gut.”
Dr. Pealer has read much of the same research that prompted TDOC to make the significant change in supervision standards. Instead of checking in regularly to a probation office, she says lower risk offenders should be allowed to work and surround themselves with others who are actually productive members of society.

…Since our stories first aired earlier this week, TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield has reached out directly to Sullivan County District Attorney Barry Staubus and Rep. Jon Lundberg (R-District 1). Both men tell us they received a letter from the commissioner giving them the chance to clear up any of their concerns about the new policy directly with him.

On Friday, News Channel 11 confirmed that Governor Bill Haslam’s office was notified of the changes by TDOC.

DA Staubus and Rep. Lundberg previously said they were outraged by the new standards and told us TDOC implemented the change back in August without asking for their input or even giving them a heads up it was on the way. TDOC’s deputy commissioners previously admitted the agency could have done a better job of letting “key players” know the change was in the works.

Lawsuits contend ETHRA illegally extended probation time to make money

A service organization is facing two federal civil rights lawsuits for allegedly padding its budget by illegally extending probationary sentences for clients, reports the News Sentinel.

The East Tennessee Human Resources Agency Inc. is named in two lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of two former clients, Corey Lawrence and Zachary Zapata, both of Loudon County. The lawsuits make the same claim — to continue to collect supervision fees, ETHRA kept the pair on a legal leash long after their probationary sentences had expired.

ETHRA contracts with Loudon County to provide supervision of probationers involved in petty crimes. ETHRA earns $45 per month per probationer for its services. The agency also earns money by charging probationers for drug tests. The lawsuits allege ETHRA makes sure its fees are paid before applying probationers’ payments to court costs and fines.

A judge can legally extend an offender’s probation if he or she still owes court costs and fines, which boosts ETHRA’s collection of supervision fees. But the lawsuits allege the agency has gone one step further — lengthening an offender’s probationary period without legal authority.

“These practices are done in order to continue collecting past, current and future fees from individuals, including probation supervision fees owed to ETHRA,” the lawsuits state.

An attempt to reach an ETHRA representative was unsuccessful.

According to the lawsuits, probationers are threatened with arrest if they don’t sign an order extending their probationary period. The probationers are not given benefit of counsel, although most have lawyers assigned to their cases, or benefit of a hearing.

Comptroller reports on probation officer stealing from probationers

News release from state comptroller’s office:
The Comptroller’s Division of Investigations released a report today detailing how former probation officer Sue Moore stole more than $63,000 in fines and fees paid by the probationers she was charged with supervising in Obion and Weakley counties.

The report details how – from April 2005 through last March – Moore diverted at least $63,372 in cash and money orders paid by her drug court clients. At least $56,206 from court fines, costs and restitution paid by probationers was supposed to be turned over to the local county court clerk’s office. Moore also kept $7,166 in supervision fees paid by the probationers that were supposed to be turned over to her employer, Westate Corrections Network, Inc.

According to investigators, Moore often collected payments in the form of money orders with the payee portion of the documents left blank. Moore either wrote the name of a vendor to which she owed money or wrote her own name as the payee and then deposited the money orders in her personal bank account. As a result, drug court clients did not receive the credit for paying their court-mandated debts.

Moore was indicted by the Obion County Grand Jury this month on one count of theft over $60,000 and one count of money laundering. The Comptroller’s investigation was conducted in conjunction with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI).

“I commend our investigators and those from the TBI for their work on this case,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “It is unacceptable for someone to abuse a position of public trust in this way. The money Ms. Moore collected should have been turned over either to the courts or her employer, not used for her personal benefit.”

People who suspect fraud, waste or abuse in government in Tennessee are encouraged to call the Comptroller’s toll-free hotline at 1-800-232-5454 or make a report online by visiting:

Probation Officer Steals from Probationers

UNION CITY, Tenn. (AP) — Authorities say a former Obion County drug court probation officer has been charged with stealing more than $63,000 from probationers she had been monitoring.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said Monday that 44-year-old Martha Sue Moore has been indicted on two counts of theft over $60,000 and one count of money laundering.

Investigators say Moore reported incorrect amounts of money she collected from probationers while working for Westate Corrections Network. The TBI says Westate discovered a discrepancy in money collected while preparing for an audit.

According to the TBI, the state comptroller’s office conducted an audit that showed Moore stole more than $63,000 from 2006 until early 2013.

Moore was booked into the Obion County Jail on $150,000 bond. Her initial court appearance is scheduled for Friday.

David Kernell, ‘Palin Email Hacker,’ Finally Free

Five years after University of Tennessee student David Kernell made national headlines when he was charged with perusing through the personal email account of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, then a 2008 vice presidential nominee on the Republican ticket, in search of politically damage material he never found, Kernell is a free man — truly free.
So reports the News Sentinel. More:
Although Kernell wrapped up a year in federal prison in November 2011, he remained under the supervision of the U.S. Probation Office through November 2014. But earlier this month, in one of his last acts before retiring in August, U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips freed Kernell from that final requirement.
Phillips’ ruling came after Kernell’s defense attorney, Wade Davies, filed a motion in which he stated Kernell had paid an adequate price for what Davies’ has long termed a youthful prank, has now completed his degree at UT and qualifies for the extraordinary move to release him from supervision.
The U.S. attorney’s office did not resist the move.
And Phillips did not tarry long in making his decision.
Although Phillips is a Republican appointee and Kernell is the son of a longtime Democrat (state representative from Memphis), Phillips did not want Kernell to go to prison in the first place. When a federal jury rejected all but one felony charge filed against Kernell in the case, Phillips ordered Kernell to spend a year and a day in a Knoxville halfway house. But the U.S. Bureau of Prisons refused and instead sent Kernell, by then 22, to prison. Judges can recommend at which facility a defendant should go, the bureau makes the final call.
Although the case has been dubbed the “Palin hacker case” in the media, this was no sophisticated computer hack, testimony showed.
After reading reports that Palin may have used her personal account for official business in her role as Alaska governor, Kernell, the son of longtime Memphis Democratic state lawmaker Mike Kernell, decided to go surfing the Web in search of the answer to her password security question.
After successfully guessing the password, he changed it and posted it online along with screenshots of some Palin family photographs and a few email messages.
He declared on the 4 Chan discussion board that he had found nothing politically damaging in the account.