As we remember the loss of JD Paugh last year in the line of duty, the picture of law enforcement as a true mission by brave men and women contrasts heartily with the profit-motivated “probation” service provided by Sentinel Offender Services LLC here in Richmond County. They are the company contracted to manage misdemeanor offenders who have entered the court system. Insiders say they have been operating in Columbia County for years illegally. But that is another story.
Misdemeanors such as disorderly conduct, traffic violations, shoplifting, DUIs and more all fall under the jurisdiction of Sentinel. While DUIs and shoplifting are more serious crimes, most of the folks caught up in the Sentinel racket are minor violators. Yet these minor violators become cash cows for this company. Word is once you get in the system, it is nearly impossible to get out, especially for the working poor. Insiders say it is a non-professional organization that preys on the poor and creates what is seen as a system that imprisons defendants as a penalty for failure to pay criminal justice debt. Yet most times, the debt that that is failed to be paid is to the private business venture Sentinel Offender Services LLC, creating a 21st century debtors prison.
And the drumbeat is getting louder and louder against this company. The Metro Spirit has been looking into Sentinel for more than six months and there is little to no positive news to report. It genuinely seems like a modern-day mafia, working side by side with law enforcement. We’ve had many off the record conversations with those in our local law enforcement circles who view the company bitterly. With limited jail space, Richmond County cops are turned into collection agents. If Sentinel needs to collect some dough, they call Richmond County to come and pick up the person. Whether the charge or amount owed is legitimate, who knows. Often times it is not. But the backlash of having a private enterprise use our local sheriff’s office to make them money seems to be coming to a boiling point.
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