Georgia bill would protect controversial for-profit probation industry

State lawmakers support private law enforcement contractors that critics say are unconstitutional and too powerful

Georgia is poised to enact legislation that would protect a multimillion-dollar law enforcement industry that critics say has revived Dickensian-era debtors prisons in America.

The Georgia bill, called House Bill (HB) 837, is a boon to private companies that sign state contracts to manage the probation periods of minor offenders. The state sentences the offenders, then hands off the supervision to the probation companies, who monitor the offenders and administer drug tests, among other services, then charge offenders for the cost. The industry dates to 1992, when local and county courts began outsourcing misdemeanor probation cases to private companies to alleviate pressure on overburdened state probation officers. And in 2000, the Georgia Legislature eliminated county-run probation services entirely for misdemeanor cases, determining that state probation officers should handle only more serious, felony, cases.

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