Private prison bill surrenders our rights

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Though Georgia Republicans earned a victory for gun rights in the Georgia State Legislature, they simultaneously ceded the civil liberties of its citizens over to private prison companies.

House Bill 837 didn’t get a whole lot of attention relative to the fact that Georgians can now bring guns into bars and churches, but the bills that do genuine damage rarely do.

If signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal, private companies will not have to disclose how much probationers pay local governments, nor will the companies have to report how many people are in their control – this despite a system paid for by tax dollars.

Additionally, the bill allows for private companies to extend probation indefinitely and to collect additional fees.

Sarah Geraghty, an attorney representing the South Center for Human Rights, told The Chronicle the bill is “a gift to the private probation industry.” She may not be entirely wrong. The bill was introduced to the floor by Republican Sen. Jesse Stone of Waynesboro, who also happens to be a candidate for a judgeship in Burke County, which contracts many of its needs out to private prison industries.

Coincidentally, The Chronicle also reports the bill was introduced shortly after lawsuits were filed in Richmond and Columbia [counties] to challenge the constitutionality of private companies carrying out judicial processes, as well as a judicial ruling in 2013 that blocked private companies from extending probationary sentences on their own, meaning they had to pay back thousands of dollars to taxpayers – threats the private prison will now consider neutralized in Georgia.

This bill is another aggressive move toward drivers in the state of Georgia – one of the few states which considers traffic violations as misdemeanors, and thus put anyone driving a car at the risk of private probation.

Super speeder laws continue to rake in money for local police departments, while the new police force in Milton seems hired to fine anybody driving slightly over the speed limit. Georgia’s hefty asset forfeiture laws – described as “among the worst in the country and the very worst in the South,” by Joel Aaron Foster of Americans for Prosperity Georgia while a bill to reform the system lay dormant on the House floor – allow police to seize anything suspected of using in a criminal activity, including cars and cash. So much for innocent until proven guilty.

These bills contribute to big profits for the industry, which makes its money purely off those in prison or probation – money which should go back to the taxpayers who fund the system. In the last quarter of 2012, Sentinel Offender Services controlled 254,000 Georgians serving probation on misdemeanor terms, resulting in $1.8 million for the company in one month alone.

It is one thing to pass a law in the name of safety or good economics. It is another thing to pass a bill that has popular support.

But our government should never pass bills that surrender our rights, or our tax money, to private companies – certainly not from the party that supposedly represents strong individual rights.