Private probation company loses license; hundreds to be affected - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Private probation company loses license; hundreds to be affected

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

A private probation company in Savannah has lost its license to do business, leaving police scrambling to figure out what to do with hundreds of probationers.

Thursday, Tybee police learned Professional Corrections is closing its doors after 20 years handling probation for the city's court, leaving Police Chief Bob Bryson to figure out what to do with the more than 200 people currently on probation.

But Tybee's not the only city affected. In Garden City, Chief David Lyons is trying to decide what to do with more than 300 probationers who are being monitored under contract with Professional Corrections. Richmond Hill had Professional Corrections handling about 300 cases. Chatham County Recorder's Court had Professional Corrections handling about 2,100 cases before terminating their contract with the company Feb. 28.

Chief Recorder's Court Judge Tammy Stokes says that process began before Professional Corrections lost its license. Recorder's Court put probation service out for public bid bid early this year, and Professional Corrections, which has handled Recorder's court probation since the early 1990s, did not submit a proposal.

Both Richmond Hill and Recorder's court have found a solution -- another private company, Southeast Corrections, which recently opened an office in Chatham County.

Last month, the group that regulates city-run and private probation companies -- the County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council -- took away Professional Corrections' license. The company declined comment for this story, but the move took some local police by surprise.

"I've been ecstatic with Professional Corrections," Garden City Police Chief David Lyons said. "They were the company that was in place when I got here 11 years ago. I've had nothing but satisfactory service with them, and this was a complete shock."

Lyons said he understood Professional Corrections had appealed the advisory council's decision.

Bryson said he learned Thursday that Professional Corrections was closing its doors despite the appeal and said it's set to shut down March 29.

Regulators gave this list of reasons for taking away the license: not doing criminal background checks, not turning in names of all employees to the advisory council, possible falsification of training records, and not making records available for inspectors.

Lyons says other companies have been aggressively pursuing Garden City's probation business since word got out that Professional Corrections lost its license.

"I think maybe there are some companies that would do anything to get the business and that scares me," Lyons said.

Tybee's City Council is set to vote Thursday night on what to do with the city's 200-odd probationers. They've got to move quickly – either by hiring enough employees for the city to take over probation management, which can be lucrative for local governments, or by signing a contract with another company.

When asked what violations did CMPAC find, they replied with the following:

Rule 26 – Probation Entity Employee Criminal Background Record Check
All employees working within the PCS office are required to be registered with the CMPAC and fingerprinted through GAPS. CMPAC policies dictate that background checks should be conducted within 10 days of employment. PCS should be familiar with Council policies in this area, as 4 new employees were fingerprinted through GAPS between October and December 2011—each roughly at the time they were hired. However, PCS has employed at least 7 other employees for several months or years without submitting fingerprints.

Rule 25 – Probation Entity Registration and Approval Requirements
According to paragraph 25(a)(2), CMPAC may require certain documents and information be submitted on a periodic basis to verify continuing compliance. Since at least December 2005, CMPAC has required each entity to submit a comprehensive list of all active employees as part of their annual registration renewal. From December 2007 to November 2012, at least 8 employees did not appear on the list(s)—for a total of 16 infractions.

Rules 20, 21, 22 and 27 – Training Requirements
General probation employees are required to complete 8 hours of in-service training each year, whereas directors and probation officers are required to complete 20 hours of annual training. PCS advised CMPAC staff on 12/11/2012 that all administrative employees had received 8 hours of training for 2012 and all probation officers had received 21 hours, and detailed training reports were presented to Staff. However, questionnaires administered to PCS employees that same day reflect both a lack of familiarity with training requirements and, more importantly, a lack of training for 2012—two probation officers advised staff that they received no training.

Additionally, a former employee alleges that PCS employees received absolutely no training for 2009 or 2010, and that training records sent to Chatham County Recorder's Court at that time were falsified. Similarly, training records given to CMPAC staff during August 2010 and December 2012 site visits may have also been falsified.

Ms. Curl reportedly served as the instructor for all PCS employee training for 2012, including her own. When asked what materials or courses she used, she advised she did not follow a course plan or use specific training materials; training was done "off the cuff." Staff believes this violates the spirit of O.C.G.A. 42-8-102(a) and council rules 22 and 27.

Rule 36 – Inspections, Investigations, and Probation Entity Monitoring
According to paragraph 36(b)(2), Council representatives must be allowed meaningful access to sources of information determined by the council to be pertinent to making a full compliance determination. In addition, Rule 23(e) requires entities to maintain an employee folder for every employee. In an 11/21/2012 email, CMPAC staff advised PCS that we would be reviewing employee files and training records, and requested that these be made available during the compliance visit. During the compliance visit, Ms. Curl advised that all information for current employees was maintained off-site at her private residence. Similarly, the employee information for Yocaira Basilio and Natasha Latimore (who ceased employment 3 and 49 days prior to the site visit, respectively) was also located off-site. Staff believes this violates the spirit of Rule 36, as it is impossible to determine the full extent of Rule 25, 26 & 27 violations.

-According to paragraph 36(b)(4), probation entities must cooperate with CMPAC investigations and provide requested information without delay. PCS may have violated this rule on 3 separate occasions. In September 2007 and November 2012, CMPAC
specifically requested that PCS submit a list of all active employees. PCS followed up by fax on 9/25/2007 but failed to include Ms. Lorena Dela Torre, who had been employed for more than four months. Again on 11/15/2012 PCS emailed a list of employees, as requested by CMPAC prior to the compliance visit, but failed to include the names of 5 employees who had worked there for several months or years. Lastly, during the 12/11/2012 site visit Ms. Curl initially denied employing unregistered individuals and repeatedly misled CMPAC staff in an attempt to impede the investigation. Staff notes that Ms. Curl did later cooperate with the investigation.

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