Sentinel Offender Services — the private probation company that was hit by more than a dozen lawsuits filed in both Richmond and Columbia counties — is done in the Peach State.
CSRA Probation Services located in Evans announced this week that it has purchased Sentinel’s 11 offices in Georgia and has taken over the company’s existing contracts to provide private probation supervision in the Peach State.
Michael Popplewell, president of CSRA Probation Services, was thrilled to announce that CSRA Probation Services would now be serving more than 150 courts in more than 35 offices throughout the state.
Popplewell, who grew up in Augusta and earned degrees in both criminal justice and psychology from Augusta College in 1979, began his career as a state probation officer with the Georgia Department of Offender Rehabilitation in 1980.
For almost two decades, Popplewell served as a field officer, transfer officer, circuit drug testing specialist, circuit public information officer and started and supervised a circuit-wide intensive probation supervision program.
By 1997, Popplewell founded CSRA Probation Services, Inc.
Since that time, Popplewell said his company has demonstrated a “standard of excellence” in the field of court services.
CSRA Probation Services is dedicated to providing services that result in significant savings to the cities, counties and courts that the company serves, he said.
“Our services, from managing a hands-on supervision program to assisting with administrative support, provide a direct benefit to the court, the offender, and the community,” CSRA Probation Services’ website boasts.
For many Georgia residents, having Sentinel Offender Services pack their bags and leave the state will be a welcome change.
After all, Sentinel’s practices were not only being challenged in court, but also by the state Legislature and many local governments.
Just last year, Richmond County officials finally wised up and began to listen to the widespread concerns about Sentinel and ultimately decided to establish a public probation department here in Augusta.
While the county realized it would be an expensive endeavor to properly establish public probation, officials knew it needed to be done.
Back in 2015, state Rep. Gloria Frazier, who sits on the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, said she had grave concerns about Sentinel.
“The company has problems,” Frazier bluntly said.
In fact, Frazier said she had heard from several constituents who told her that Sentinel had been ruthless in its attempts to collect these excessive fees in the past.
“What is happening is they are going on folks’ jobs and telling them they have to pay these fines or they are going to impose jail time,” Frazier said. “What it is, is that, Sentinel made a lot of money last year on these additional fines that were imposed.”
But it wasn’t just the political pressure that pushed Sentinel out of Georgia.
Sentinel was also hit by a dozen lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the statute that allows its existence.
The cases alleged that Sentinel overcharged probationers and illegally collected fees, in some instances using incarceration to coerce payment from probationers.
Augusta Attorney Jack Long, who represented the plaintiffs in the local lawsuits against Sentinel, said the private probation company’s actions were inexcusable.
“Examples of the abuses of tolling go on and on,” Long stated. “The point is that Sentinel makes money from tolling at the expense of Georgia citizens. It is debt collection aided by the threat and use of incarceration to compel payment.”
Founded in 1992, Sentinel Offender Services had grown into a powerful player in criminal justice systems around the country.
Based in Irvine, California, the company had assets of nearly $32 million, and brought in nearly $5.6 million in revenues in 2012, according to disclosures filed in a separate, federal lawsuit.
In Georgia, the bulk of the company’s business came from collecting fines and fees for private probation and monitoring. Elsewhere, their contracts with municipalities to provide electronic monitoring bring in millions.
The state’s Department of Community Supervision reported that Sentinel had earned more than $1.6 million in supervision fees in a single quarter last year.
That financial quarter made Sentinel the state’s top earning firm among Georgia’s private probation companies.
“When the person on probation runs out of money and is unable to pay, the company can petition to jail them in lieu of payment,” Long said. “Thus, it is possible, even in 21st century America, to be jailed for poverty.”
Now, that Sentinel is gone from Georgia, it’s CSRA Probation Services’ turn to takeover those private probation contracts.
Popplewell and his company have a proven track record of treating their clients with respect.
That respect will go a long way, particularly after years of Sentinel bullying people on probation in the Peach State.