Lawsuit Filed Against Private Probation Company to Stop Abuses

13th April, 2015
Southern Center for Human Rights

ALBANY, GEORGIA –The Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) filed Edwards v. Red Hills Community Probation, LLC, et al., on behalf of indigent people injured by the abusive business practices of a probation company operating in two south Georgia municipal courts.

The civil rights lawsuit asserts that employees of Red Hills Community Probation, LLC (“Red Hills”) routinely demand large amounts of money from probationers, seizing them and detaining them in the local courthouses in Bainbridge and Pelham until they or their family members make a payment on their fines and fees. In addition, the employees use threats and misrepresentations to coerce people to report and pay long after their probation terms are complete.

Named plaintiffs Adel Edwards, Vera Cheeks, and Fred Barber appeared in municipal court to resolve traffic tickets or ordinance violations. After being sentenced, the indigent plaintiffs met with Red Hills probation officers, who detained them with the assistance of local police officers:

• Adel Edwards went to the Pelham Municipal Court and pleaded guilty to burning leaves in his yard without a permit. Mr. Edwards, who is intellectually disabled and whose only income consisted of food stamps, was placed on probation for 12 months because he could not pay his $500 fine on the day of court. With probation “supervision” costs added in, his court bill rose to $1,028. Minutes later, a Red Hills probation officer demanded an immediate payment that neither Mr. Edwards nor his family could afford to pay. Mr. Edwards was taken to jail and held for several days until a friend paid $250 to get Mr. Edwards out of jail. After Mr. Edwards’s probation expired a year later, private probation officers instructed him to continue reporting once per week, threatening to have him jailed if he failed to report and pay as ordered.

• Vera Cheeks went to the Bainbridge Municipal Court and pleaded guilty to failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. She could not pay her $135 ticket, so the municipal court placed her on probation and required her to pay supervision fees until her fine was paid. When Ms. Cheeks met with a private probation officer minutes later, she was instructed to pay $50 immediately or else she would go to jail. Because she did not have money, Ms. Cheeks was detained in the courthouse while her fiancé left to pawn his weed trimmer and Ms. Cheeks’ engagement ring.

• Fred Barber went to the Bainbridge Municipal Court and pleaded guilty to driving a car with a suspended registration. He was placed on probation and met with a private probation officer, who told Mr. Barber that he would go to jail unless he immediately paid $280. Mr. Barber did not have $280, so the private probation officer had Mr. Barber placed in an inmate holding cell inside the courthouse while Mr. Barber’s cousin left in search of someone to loan her money.

“Red Hills probation officers hold poor people for ransom over traffic tickets, while their families scramble to come up with money to secure their release,” said SCHR attorney Sarah Geraghty. She added, “Practices like this one erode public confidence in law enforcement and undermine the integrity of the court system.”

According to the lawsuit, these plaintiffs’ experiences represent a longstanding policy for which the municipalities of Bainbridge and Pelham are responsible. The lawsuit further claims that local law enforcement officials are liable for knowingly assisting the company’s employees in violating the plaintiffs’ rights.

The plaintiffs seek damages and injunctive relief, claiming that the company’s practices are unconstitutional and fraudulent. The case was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.

To read the Complaint, click here

For additional information, contact Kathryn Hamoudah at 404/688-1202 or [email protected]