Probation in most states is reserved for shoplifters, drunk drivers and felons who need community supervision instead of lock-up. In Georgia, probation handles those kinds of cases. But probation in the Peach State has also become a massive system for collecting money from people who can't afford to pay off traffic tickets and other misdemeanor fines on the day they go to court.
This unique – and often lucrative – use of community supervision has turned Georgia into the nation's probation kingpin. More than 500,000 Georgians were on probation in 2013, according to a new federal report. That's far more in sheer numbers than any other state and represents a probation rate that is more than quadruple the national average.
An investigation of probation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that waitresses, teachers, construction workers, mothers and children, and people who haven't worked in months stream into probation offices across the state trying to pay off fines that can quickly double in cost once the probation system adds its slate of fees.