You know you’re not having a good year when virtually all the headlines explode in your face and that is the atmosphere around Georgia’s adult misdemeanor probation industry.
It is a foregone conclusion the state will re-engineer this policy sector in which private and public providers supervise about 175,000 adults whose misdemeanor offenses such as traffic tickets landed them in court. Soon we will know what that might mean in terms of 2015 legislation.
Adult misdemeanor probation headlines this year included Georgia General Assembly passage of a potential reform bill that backfired, Governor Nathan Deal’s veto of that same legislation, a highly critical state audit of misdemeanor probation services, a Georgia Supreme Court ruling that shook up misdemeanor probation and lots of opinion about what should be done next.
The Council on Criminal Justice Reform (CCJR) appointed by Governor Deal is among several entities with a large voice in the conversation. Last week the CCJR approved several recommendations. The Council has a three-hour meeting scheduled for Wednesday in Atlanta but the agenda has not been announced. The Council waded into misdemeanor probation at Governor Deal’s request.
Here is a very scaled down summary of some major moving parts:
• HB 837 passed the House and Senate in March and would have exempted private probation providers from the Open Records Act. They would be required to report fees earned to the court, governing authority or council that entered into a contract for their services, but records would not be available to the public. Deal vetoed the bill in April.
• Also in April an official state audit reported on 35 private sector providers that supervised about 80% of misdemeanor probationers statewide in August 2013. (See Project 12-06) The audit found loose policies and procedures, inconsistencies statewide, improper fees being imposed by some providers and much more that was detailed in a 73-page report. Some providers acted outside their authority by gaming the system to force probationers to pay their fees early, extending probation terms without court authorization, improperly accounting for fees paid by probationers and even obtaining arrest warrants.
• Last month the state Supreme Court in the Sentinel Offender Services case (link) upheld the legality for court systems to contract with private probation service providers but it also held that many of their practices were in fact beyond the scope of their authority.
When it met last week in Atlanta the CCJR discussed recommendations to address the state Supreme Court’s November 24 ruling in Sentinel. The company provides misdemeanor private probation services throughout Georgia including Columbia and Richmond counties.
Thirteen plaintiffs who were sentenced to misdemeanor probation in Columbia and Richmond county courts asserted in a lawsuit that the state statute that allows for private offender services is unconstitutional. Further, they asserted that Sentinel unlawfully collected supervision fees and violated their due process rights, even seeking arrest warrants without court authorization.
In their unanimous opinion the Supreme Court justices upheld the statute that allows courts to contract with private probation services. The justices also ruled a misdemeanor probationer’s sentence cannot be extended beyond the original order and in another aspect of Sentinel the Court said electronic monitoring of misdemeanor probationers is permissible. The decision also sent several cases back to lower courts for further resolution.
In brief summary, CCJR recommendations approved last week would require that reports filed by private probation services would become public records. Probationers would have improved access to their files including the financial records for fines they paid. Arrest warrants could not be sought if a probationer missed a scheduled meeting or payment. Indigent probationers could have their fines and fees converted to public service. Courts would have the authority to modify or suspend fees. Finally, probationers would be guaranteed a hearing before any decision to suspend their sentence because of a failure to pay fines, fees or costs.
The Council will have further recommendations on private probation services. The Council’s final report will be submitted to Governor Deal and the Legislature in mid-to-late January. This will be the fourth criminal justice reform annual report. The previous three dealt with adult and juvenile justice and adult re-entry reforms.
(Mike Klein has held executive leadership positions with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Georgia Public Broadcasting and CNN where he was Vice President of News Production. His justice articles are often republished by the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s “Right on Crime” initiative. Learn more about Mike at LinkedIn.)
Michelle Rhee, the innovative founder of StudentsFirst and former chancellor of Washington, D.C. public schools, spoke about the new Obama administration No Child Left Behind waivers when she appeared on CNN on Wednesday morning. “American Morning” host Christine Romans asked, has NCLB been a bust?
“I don’t think so at all. Let me be clear that the law is not perfect. I think everyone knows there are some changes and modifications that need to be made, but I don’t think that anyone can doubt that it has brought a new level of accountability to American schools,” Rhee said.
“We are looking at data in a way that we never have before, we are paying attention to sub-groups of kids and saying that it’s not okay for certain groups of kids in your school or school district to be failing and in those ways, it’s incredibly important.”
On Monday, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan used the White House briefing room to announce that all 50 states could apply for waivers from the No Child Left Behind requirement that 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading by 2014. Georgia will apply.
Michelle Rhee again on CNN: “We want kids to meet the standards. Now, is that all that should be happening? No. One of the things you see is tests only test certain subjects, often mat and reading, and sometimes what schools do is go overboard and they just try to jam reading and math down the kids’ throats. That’s not the answer.
“The research shows that kids who have access to a broad-based curriculum are the ones who do better academically. But also, we shouldn’t go to the other direction to say testing is evil, testing is bad. We have to be able to, in a very objective and consistent way, know whether or not kids are learning and meeting the standards. The way to do that is a standardized test.
“One of the things that drive people nuts about No Child Left Behind is that it sets certain benchmarks for proficiency. X percent of your kids have to be at proficiency and it goes up every year until 2014 when 100 percent of your kids are supposed to be proficient. People look at that and say, it’s not realistic.
“We have to be able to look at growth. Is the school moving student achievement in the right direction? Are the students growing to meet certain targets? Instead of having a binary distinction of either met Adequate Yearly Progress or you have not, what has the growth looked like? We have to modify the system so that achievement and growth can be taken into account without there being this strict binary yes and no.”
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)
The next sound that you hear from the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal will likely be, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?”
Last August the Atlanta Public Schools Blue Ribbon Commission of very high profile corporate executives released its report that found no evidence of systemic cheating on 2009 school year state competency tests. Now we know better and the story being told is absolutely repulsive.
Lacking subpoena powers, two companies hired to create the investigatory work produced a 22-page report that substantially failed to answer questions that include: What did Beverly Hall know and when did she know it? Perhaps it was always too much to expect that a Blue Ribbon Commission created by the APS Board would conclude that the superintendent and officials close to her office had roles in a test cheating scandal that has showered disgrace on Atlanta.
The Blue Ribbon Commission report stated: “The investigative team did not find any data or other evidence, nor were there qualified allegations made, that there was any district-wide or centrally coordinated effort to manipulate the 2009 CRCT scores and outcomes of students in the 58 APS schools.”
The Key Findings section continued, “There were no self-admissions by any central office staff, district office staff or school staff of any wrongdoing in connection with the 2009 CRCT. The investigative team did not uncover any other direct evidence of test irregularities in the form of video or audio recordings or similar evidence.”
To be fair, Caveon Test Security and KPMG investigators had no authority to compel anyone to answer questions. They could not subpoena cell phone records, administer polygraph tests or initiate legal action. Their report referred 108 educators for further investigation by APS which did no such thing. APS sent the names on down the road to the Professional Standards Commission. Superintendent Hall said the report was “vindication” that there was no widespread cheating scandal.
The Blue Ribbon Commission process itself was further flawed. Caveon and KPMG conducted 292 interviews with APS central office, district level and school level staff. One hundred thirty interviews were conducted with an APS observer present, monitoring the discussion. APS tried to discredit test erasure analysis from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. Also, the Commission investigators did not have access to the 2009 school tests erasure analysis.
A Blue Ribbon Commission of leading executives would have a lot to fear from such a report. It would not serve the business community well to have Atlanta schools in screaming headlines such as this on Tuesday from CNN: “Dozens of Atlanta Educators Falsified Tests.” Or this on Thursday from USA Today: “Atlanta Joins Growing List of School Exam Scandals.” You cannot sell corporate relocation to a city whose education system is suspect.
Governor Nathan Deal released a very different report Tuesday, one of 428 pages. Well down inside those hundreds of pages is a section labeled The Business Community. It states:
“Dr. Hall had the support of community leaders after becoming superintendent. She courted philanthropic and business leaders rather than spend her days in the schools, working the ‘trenches’ and speaking one-on-one with teachers to know what was happening in her district.
“In many ways, the community was duped by Dr. Hall. While the district had rampant cheating, community leaders were unaware of the misconduct in the district. She abused the trust they placed in her. Hall became a subject of adoration and made herself the focus rather than the children. Her image became more important than reality.
“What began as a minor cheating scandal at Deerwood Academy, led to an investigation by a then-obscure state agency, headed by a former elementary school teacher. This was the first CRCT cheating by APS uncovered by a governmental agency, the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. Questions began about Dr. Hall’s leadership.
“When the 2009 results were published, they were startling. Governor (Sonny) Perdue ordered an erasure analysis. There were concerns that the high scores were the result of cheating.
“Many of Dr. Hall’s supporters defended her and the district. The possibility of a negative reflection on the Atlanta ‘brand’ caused some to protect Dr. Hall and attack the messengers. Image was more important than the truth.”
There was also reference made that the Blue Ribbon Commission report should be “finessed” past then Governor Purdue. The business section concludes, “Somewhere in the process the truth got lost, and so did the children.”
In the report released this week, special prosecutors and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation identified 178 principals and other educators who confessed or allegedly participated in the testing scandal. Cheating was confirmed in 44 of 56 investigated schools. Thirty-eight principals were responsible for or directly involved in cheating. The report concluded Hall knew or should have known, implying that it was impossible to have not known.
The highly compensated Hall retired last week, ending a 12-year tenure during which she became celebrated for learning improvements that are now suspected to be a fraud. Hall was paid $425,173 last year in salary, bonus and travel reimbursement. Her bonus was tied in part to student achievement. Hall earned $399,545 in 2009 and $355,993 in 2008. Late Wednesday afternoon Hall’s attorney said she didn’t know anything about cheating.
This will be interesting to watch when folks are under oath.
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)
“Security inside Kabul today is provided by the Afghan security forces. You’re going to have the occasional suicide bomber. You’re going to have the occasional suicide vehicle get through.”
When he addressed the Atlanta Press Club on Tuesday the United States three-star general who commands the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan almost certainly could not know about events that would unfold thousands of miles away. Within an hour of his presentation militants attacked the Hotel Inter-Continental in Kabul. At least 19 died, including the militants.
Again, there would be reason to question whether Afghan military and police forces will be capable to defend their country when all U.S. fighting forces are withdrawn in December 2014. More than 30,000 will leave before next year ends, as announced by President Barack Obama.
Lt. General William Caldwell commands the multi-national NATO Training Mission. His job you don’t want: Create an army, an air force, a police force and install government and economic infrastructures into a country in which fewer than three in ten people can read or write their own name. This initiative is the job that you don’t read or hear about in most accounts. This money — 92 percent funded by the United States — is being spent to bring a country from backward, illiterate ways into something akin to modern society.
“When I first arrived there in November ’09, the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke told me, hey, General, you’re going to need to take on this literacy thing,” Caldwell said. “Here I am a three-star General, I’m a fairly senior guy, and I’m sitting here telling the Ambassador, you’ve got it wrong, that’s USAID or State Department or somebody else, but that ain’t my mission. In about 60 days, I was eating my words, telling him, Ambassador, you were exactly right.
“I can produce the greatest army, the greatest police force but it will never endure if they don’t have the education, basic level, I’m not talking about college level, I’m talking about basic level education to account for equipment, to maintain the equipment. We’ve taken that on full force.”
When the literacy effort began 14 percent of Afghan military and police recruits could read. That will improve to one-in-two by year’s end. The NATO Training Mission currently employs 2,600 teachers, more than any entity in Afghanistan other than the Education Ministry. One hundred thousand Afghans have been taken from illiteracy to some literacy in twelve months.
Caldwell is a former Columbus, Georgia native whose many worldwide U.S. commands included the 82nd Airborne Division when it evacuated more than 6,000 New Orleans residents after Hurricane Katrina. He served as the Multi-National Force-Iraq spokesman before 28 months in command of the U.S. Army at Fort Leavenworth. That preceded his NATO assignment in Afghanistan.
“If you go back to December 2009 when our president made the announcement about putting additional surge forces in one of the three things that he said he wanted to do was help set the conditions that would enable the Afghan security forces to grow and develop so they could take on this responsibility for security inside their country and not be reliant on coalition forces,”
“We also understand there are still challenges ahead of us as we move forward. All we have to do is look around Afghanistan. We call it seeing the Echoes of the Past. If you look at what the Soviets did when they were there they in fact did build an incredible army and air force and a government that was functioning, well-equipped, well-trained and yet within two years after their withdrawal it fell into complete disarray, disintegrated, did not work.”
Afghanistan, like any conflict zone, is an imperfect place. Incidents like the Hotel Inter-Continental attack this week are likely to be repeated. Militant forces sympathetic to the Taliban, al Qaeda and ethnic groups that often do not share values will no doubt continue to test coalition forces and the internal government that many Westerners believe is inept if not corrupt and you can find support for those views inside the country as well.
Caldwell described the Afghanistan state of mind as being “thirty years of civil war where all they did was worry about survival. There was no nationalistic view. There was no idea of serving others. It was about survival for 30 years. Now we’re trying to change that to serving something greater than yourself. That’s taking time.”
Support for this 10-year war and the two-year NATO Training Mission is waning at home, especially with Osama bin Laden now killed. Sixty-two percent who answered a CNN poll oppose continued U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Fifty-one percent answered the same way in a CBS News poll. Just 45 percent told the Pew Research Center that the United States will “probably succeed” in Afghanistan. NATO’s Training Mission will be on the ground until at least the year 2016 because it will take that long to install a capable Afghan Air Force.
“I recognize there is some weariness back in the United States about the ongoing efforts,” Caldwell said. “Our job is to make this thing last. It has to endure. We have to receive return on our investment that we have made both in terms of human life and in monetary resources.” Additional source: NATO Training Mission website.
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