By Anna-Claire Terry
Opelika recently made a decision to take on probation services as an in-house task. For the last three years, the city had a contract with a private company, Professional Probation Services.
According to city attorney Guy Gunter, the decision was in the city’s best interest.
“We decided to terminate the contract, not because of any fault on their ( PPS) part, but the city felt it would be best to go to an in-house service. The city will hire a probation officer to supervise probations in the municipal courts,” Gunter said.
According to Gunter, the reasoning behind the contract termination is to protect the city from getting sued. “There has been a lot of litigation in other cities about privatized probation services. You have public interest law firms that are of the opinion that private for-pay probation services puts an undue burden on the poor,” he said. The city does not actually pay money to the probation services company. The person on probation pays a monthly fee of $35. “It’s a good deal for the tax payer, but not so good of a deal for the person on probation,” Gunter said.
The new probation officer will be a salaried city employee with responsibilities and duties that include but are not limited to meeting with those on probation, discussion of terms of probation, administering drug tests, monitoring community service and rehabilitation programs and pretrial diversion investigation. The new probation officer will cover probation for all offenders of misdemeanors in Opelika. Gunter added that having an in-house employee specifically dedicated to these tasks will allow more time for everything to be handled efficiently.
Alabama cities that have faced lawsuits because of privatized probation services include Montgomery, Columbianna, Alexander City and Dothan.
“Essentially, what Opelika is doing is being proactive,” Gunter said.