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County goes back to JAG for probation services

Private probation services in Grady County State Court and Grady County Magistrate Court will be provided by Judicial Alternatives of Georgia (JAG) effective June 11.
Contracts between JAG and State Court Judge Joshua C. Bell and Chief Magistrate Lawton Heard were presented to the Grady County Commission Tuesday for board approval.
The service had been provided by Red Hills Community Probation since January.
Judge Bell sent a letter on May 11 to Red Hills owner Margaret Crutchfield stating his intent to terminate the Red Hills contract effective June 11, 2015.
Bell also terminated contracts with Red Hills for the municipal courts he presides over, including the City of Cairo Municipal Court and the City of Whigham Recorders Court.
Chief Magistrate Heard also sent a letter dated May 27 terminating the contract between Red Hills and the Grady County Magistrate Court effective June 11, 2015.
The judges’ decisions to terminate the multiple contracts with Red Hills comes on the heels of two lawsuits filed in April against the probation company.
In a federal class action lawsuit filed on  April 10, Red Hills Community Probation, LLC and its CEO Margaret Crutchfield are named as defendants along with Martiele Pickle and Jodi Simpson, probation officers employed by Red Hills; Pelham Police Chief Nealie McCormick; former Bainbridge Public Safety Director Eric Miller; police officers for the cities of Pelham and Bainbridge; and the City of Pelham and the City of Bainbridge.
Judge Bell also serves as the municipal court judge in both Pelham and Bainbridge. According to local officials, Bell has terminated contracts with Red Hills in all of the courts he presides over.
Bell was not named in either lawsuit filed.
The class action suit was brought by Adel Edwards, Fred Barber, Vera Cheeks, Ulysses West and James H. Davis Jr. The plaintiffs are being represented by attorneys with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs contend that Red Hills Probation is illegally detaining indigent defendants sentenced to probation to coerce them into borrowing money to get out of jail.
Then, on April 20, a suit was filed in Grady Superior Court against Red Hills and the City of Cairo by Cairo attorney K. Todd Butler on behalf of plaintiff T.W. Green Jr.
Similar to the federal suit, this suit also contends the defendants illegally detained a plaintiff and defrauded and deceived the plaintiff into paying or surrendering money not due or payable to the defendants in this case.
The suit alleges the court made no provision that payment of any part of the fine or costs would be a condition precedent to such persons’ probation.
The suit further alleges that after Green was sentenced, he met with Margaret Crutchfield of Red Hills or another employee of Red Hills and was told an initial payment of $400 was due, and if he failed to pay, a Cairo police officer would jail him until the demanded initial payment was made.
While Red Hills has been the private probation provider for Cairo Municipal Court for approximately 14 years, this is not the first time the contract with Grady County State Court and Red Hills has been terminated.
In December 2010, then-State Court Judge Bill Bass Sr., terminated the contract with Red Hills, which had served State Court here for eight years. Bass then brought in Judicial Alternatives of Georgia, Inc., as the private probation provider.
JAG served in that role with Grady State Court until newly elected State Court Judge Bell terminated JAG’s contract in January of this year.
During a meeting between Judge Bell and the county commission in January, the judge stated, “If I had an issue six months from now and I called Tim (Donavon of JAG) I think he would do everything in his power to come help.”
Grady County Commission Chairman LaFaye Copeland said Tuesday she was pleased that Judge Bell had decided to go back to JAG for probation services.
“Judge Bell stuck to his word. The one thing I can say about JAG is that they help probationers find jobs to help pay off their debts. I believe they will continue to do the same thing,” Chairman Copeland said.
The county was not presented the contracts until shortly before the meeting Tuesday morning so County Attorney Kevin S. Cauley said he had not had time to review them, but from his preliminary review he did not have an issue with the agreements.
“They can be terminated with 30 days written notice,” Cauley noted.
The board voted unanimously to formally terminate the contract with Red Hills and then voted to approve the contract with JAG.
“We’re right back where we were to start with,” Commissioner Elwyn Childs commented.

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