SCHR Challenges Illegal, Money-making Drug Testing Scheme of Private Probation Company

17th February, 2016
Southern Center for Human Rights

CLEVELAND, GEORGIA – Today, the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) filed Luse, et al. v. Sentinel Offender Services, LLC, et al. on behalf of people in White County, Georgia, who are placed on probation for traffic offenses and forced to submit to illegal urine tests at their own expense by one of the country’s largest for-profit probation companies. 

 

Luse is a civil rights lawsuit that seeks to stop the coercive practices of Sentinel Offender Services, LLC (“Sentinel”).  In White County, Sentinel requires people on probation for traffic offenses to submit to invasive urine tests monitored by company employees, and then pay Sentinel for each test, solely to generate revenue for the company.   Sentinel has a practice of misrepresenting that anyone on probation must submit to these tests on demand and without court authorization.      

 

Plaintiffs Rita Sanders Luse and Marianne Ligocki were subjected to Sentinel’s practices after appearing  before Judge Garrison Baker, the presiding judge of the White County Probate Court, and pleading guilty to driving while unlicensed.  Judge Baker fined each woman and placed each on probation with Sentinel.  When the women later reported to the local Sentinel office, probation officer Stacy McDowell-Black forced them to urinate in a cup while a Sentinel employee monitored them.  Sentinel charged an unauthorized fee for each test and allowed its employees to dictate the time, place, and frequency of the tests. 

 

•Over the course of her year on probation, Ms. Luse, a 62-year-old grandmother on a limited income, was required to submit to repeated urine tests and to pay Sentinel nearly $60 in unauthorized fees. Ms. Luse’s probation officer, Ms. McDowell-Black, routinely threatened her with incarceration to ensure that payments to Sentinel took priority over necessities such as rent, child care, food, or medical expenses. 

•Ms. Ligocki’s probation officer, Ms. McDowell-Black, required her to urinate in a cup on numerous occasions, with the bathroom door open and in the presence of a Sentinel employee.  Ms. Ligocki is charged a special fee for each of these unauthorized tests.  As a result of Sentinel’s various fees and charges, Ms. Ligocki still owes more than half of her court-imposed fine of $313.02, despite paying $490 to Sentinel so far.  Of that $490, only $131 has been applied to her fine.  By contrast, Sentinel collected $305 for itself. Ms. Ligocki is a 45-year old mother of nine children living on a limited income. She is still on probation and continues to be subjected to Sentinel’s abusive practices.  

 

In each case, Sentinel probation officer Stacy McDowell-Black falsely claimed that drug tests were a court-ordered requirement of probation and that a refusal to submit a urine sample on demand would result in revocation of probation.  Sentinel’s policy of coercing unauthorized and unlawful urine tests from probationers violates the Constitution and causes unwarranted distress, anxiety, humiliation, and fear of incarceration.

 

“Sentinel’s predatory practices have nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with turning a profit.” said Sarah Geraghty, Managing Attorney of SCHR’s Impact Litigation Unit. “Public confidence in the courts will be seriously undermined if these abusive practices are allowed to continue.”

 

The plaintiffs seek damages and injunctive relief to end to Sentinel’s unlawful practices. The case was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. 

 

 

To read the Complaint, click here.