Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Technology keeps a watchful eye

by Lisa Seiser

April 05, 2012

They might work right next to you and you don't even know it. Just like everyone else, they work all day, head home after for dinner with their family, watch a little television and then go to sleep, only to return to work the next day.

But they are different from you in one respect. On their ankle is a thick, heavy, black rubber and plastic bracelet that monitors their every move using a GPS connected to the Walworth County Sheriff's Department. When they get home, later while watching TV, a Breathalyzer monitor will sound and they have to breathe into it to show they haven't been drinking.

About 20 people in Walworth County who have been found guilty for crimes such as first or second- offense drunken driving, bail jumping, traffic crimes and other low security types of offenses are wearing Electronic Monitoring Devices.

The program is relatively new and Walworth County Sheriff's Department personnel hope to increase those numbers to 100 by July.

So far, the program has been a success.

The EMD tracks the detailed movements of the wearer via satellites at regular intervals. The monitoring company and the Sheriff's Department watches every move 24 hours a day. If the person wearing the EMD is not where they are supposed to be, the person will be in violation and will be picked up by the deputies. Locations where people on the EMDs are restricted, include friends' homes and restaurants or bars that serve alcohol.

The GPS capabilities allow pinpoint monitoring of the EMD wearer.

"The technology is excellent," said Walworth County Jail Administrator John Delaney. "We are able to track your daily activity and routine, where were you and where you weren't supposed to be."

"You are literally tracked and can be questioned on how fast you were going, the locations where you went, stopping for lunch at a place where there is alcohol," Jail Sergeant Steven Sax said. "You give up more freedoms with the EMD technology."

The EMDs also can alert police if the person goes into an area they shouldn't if they are, for instance, a sex offender goes into a school or if someone goes to a home they shoulnd't because of a restraining order.

"We can set up hot zones, so if they cross the line, the alarm goes off and they are picked up," Walworth County Sheriff David Graves said.

That is something that doesn't happen if someone is out during their daily Huber dorm release.

"We want people to know that they are way more closely monitored than the Huber dorm," Sax said. "When they walk out, we have no idea where they are going. They are supposed to go to work, but for all we know, they are driving to Milwaukee. We have no way of tracking. But, on the EMD, we know exactly where you are every minute."

Delaney said while the bracelet is restricting, people with EMDs are able to meet more of their daily responsibilities and remain contributors to society.

"The whole element of punishment and the cost of that punishment is hard on taxpayers," Sax said. "This is a sway to the monitor that they are paying for their own food, their electric bills and not having the taxpayers of Walworth County paying for all that."

Graves said he has not worn it and he wouldn't want to. But he said he wouldn't want to be in the Huber or jail, either. But he calls the use of the EMD technology an important part of the county's diversionary efforts.

For people who say this is soft on crime, I would differ with that," Graves said. "This is a better way to keep track of our inmates and holding them accountable. Government is not free, but if we can cut some costs and still maintain public safety, that is our objective with this."

EMDs educing need for jail, Huber space

An increase in the number of EMDs from 20 to 100 in the coming months is expected to make a significant financial impact on the county. The plan would be to reduce the number of Huber inmates and convert that space to jail space.

That would be done instead of a possible jail addition that has included cost estimates of $11 million. Changing the Huber dorm areas into jail facilities will cost up to $150,000.

"Through the use of this technology, we can save bed days," Delaney said. "That will put off an expansion by converting the space. We will use beds of people who would have been in Huber now on electronic monitoring."

Graves said increasing the use of the EMDs will allow the county to eliminate some staff, alleviate crowding and expand the jail.

"We will be able to remodel for a secure facility that way we don't have to expand the jail," Graves said. "I think it maintains public safety because we know where they are all the time. We know if they are violating."

In order to increase the number of people on the EMDs, there still is work to do.

Sax said policies must be rewritten so more people are eligible for the EMDs to allow for more people in the system.

More areas are looking into this type of technology as a cost savings. The EMD equipment costs about $5,000 and those who are put on it pay $17 per day for its use. They pay $18 to stay in the Huber facility.

"I think it is an up and coming thing, especially when jails are becoming crowded and tax revenues are decreasing," Graves said.

He called the expansion of the program a win all around and the county will make sure it is a success.EMD strips woman's freedom