Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

More inmates at home on electronic monitoring
A year after program expands, jail thrilled with results

by Rob Ireland

May 02, 2013

ELKHORN — Inside the Walworth County jail there are rows of empty bunk beds in a room that used to be a Huber dorm.

That room housed inmates serving sentences with work-release privileges. Huber inmates leave the facility during the day to work and return at night.

Those rooms are now empty because last May, the Walworth County jail significantly expanded its electronic monitoring program, which places inmates on supervised house arrest.

Now, a year since the program was expanded, at any given time between 80 and 90 inmates are supervised by electronic monitoring.

This growth has resulted in significant savings for the jail.

Through attrition, the jail staff was reduced by eight, Undersheriff Kurt Picknell said. That results in an annual savings of nearly $800,000, he added.

Jail superintendent Steven Sax said money is also saved on utilities, food and other expenses.

“Our insurance went down because we are not housing as many inmates,” Sax said.

The sheriff’s department has reduced the Huber dorm to one room. The jail has increased the security in the former Huber dorms, which now can be used for overflow if the jail population grows.

The Huber dorms are for inmates who can leave the jail to work or care for children. The jail houses inmates who are incarcerated and can’t leave.

Sgt. Sean Duffey said, as of last week, 57 inmates were in the Huber dorm and were not part of the electronic monitoring program. Duffey said the jail won’t be able to place all Huber inmates on electronic monitoring. That’s because the program is only available to inmates who live in Walworth County. Another reason inmates opt out of electronic monitoring is because land-line phones are required for alcohol testing (see side bar Monitoring for alcohol use). Inmates serving short sentences don’t want to pay to have a phone installed.

“Individuals have requested not to go on electronic monitoring because they will be supervised better than if they were on Huber,” Duffey said. Duffey said of the 357 people who have been on electronic monitoring in the past year, 31 have been revoked from it. Those are mostly due to drug and alcohol use. Inmates are drug screened on a regular basis.

Are we coddling criminals?

The electronic monitoring program is for inmates who have been convicted and sentenced. During the sentencing, the judge determines whether an inmate is eligible for Huber privileges.

The jail staff decides whether Huber inmates will serve their sentences in the dorm or if they are suitable for electronic monitoring. Duffey said the jail staff looks at the inmate’s history and where he or she will reside before giving them electronic monitoring. If they committed crimes against children, the jail wants to make sure the inmate doesn’t live with children, Picknell said. Picknell said sheriff’s deputies visit the home before the inmate is allowed to live there. Picknell said they want to make sure the inmate has a chance to be successful on the program.

If the inmate is serving a sentence for drunken driving, the jail won’t let them live in a home with beer cans scattered on the porch. When inmates were released out of the Huber dorm, they weren’t under strict supervision, and it was difficult for the jail to know whether the inmates spent their days at work. Picknell said the sheriff’s department is also hoping to change the inmates behavior.

“They are eventually going to return (home),” Picknell said. “This helps with the behavior modification in the transition period.” How closely can the jail monitor inmates?

Inmates provide the jail with an itinerary weekly, and their plans are either approved or denied. In the electronic monitoring offices, the jail can track where an inmate is at any given moment. For an example, the jail pulled up an inmate who was working in construction in Milwaukee.

The computer showed where he was and time stamped when he was there. It even showed how fast he drove there.

Duffey can even track inmates at his home from his cell phone, and he gets text message alerts if there are any problems. Deputies may also stop by inmates’ homes unexpectedly to check on them. If there is any suspicious activity, the deputies have the right to search the residence. The inmates agreed to these terms before being placed on electronic monitoring. Inmates pay $17 a day to rent the equipment. It costs the jail less than $9 to rent, but Duffey said they want the inmates’ cost to cover all the expenses used to monitor them, which includes wages of the staff who monitors the inmates.

Sax said the jail leases the equipment, which allows for updates when better technology becomes available. The electronic monitoring equipment used by the department of corrections only allows probation agents to see if the convict is home and doesn’t monitor his or her movements. Sax said the technology for electronic monitoring is advancing as fast as cell phone technology.