The state council overseeing private probation companies voted unanimously Wednesday to launch a criminal investigation against a Darien-based firm, South Georgia Probation Inc., the day after the company’s owner, Shea Smith, informed three courts she was quitting. … Neither Smith nor her lawyer appeared before the council, which is an arm of the Judicial Council of Georgia, to answer findings on noncompliance in its supervision of defendants on probation. The council noted it is likely to hear other such cases against private probation companies from around the state in light of a recent State Supreme Court decision that says the companies cannot extend the probation of misdemeanor defendants over nonpayment of supervision fees. After that ruling, which resulted from a battery of suits against Sentinel Probation in the Augusta area, thousands of arrest warrants were rescinded around the state. Many had been secured by large firms that provide probation services in multiple counties.
In South Georgia Probation’s case, an October compliance review showed that Smith, who is a registered probation officer, had given administrative employees authority to make decisions on probations, that probation officers didn’t meet education standards, had unregistered employees and didn’t have procedures for indigent defendants. Among other deficiencies the company let probationers buy out of community service, collected dismissal fees on active warrants, collected fees for drug tests that weren’t completed and collected its fees upfront rather than monthly as courts ordered, the review said….