Janesville52°

Electronic monitoring put to use

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ANN MARIE AMES
March 9, 2008
— Since Bob Spoden was sworn in as sheriff, Rock County has tripled the number of inmates living at home and working in the community while wearing electronic monitoring bracelets.

Putting inmates on the bracelet helps alleviate jail crowding while maintaining community safety, Spoden said.


It’s cheaper than renting beds in other jails and in some cases actually tightens control on inmates, he said.


In the future, the electronic monitoring program will lower the cost of bricks and mortar if the county expands its already crowded jail, Spoden said.


But critics say jail is supposed to be punishment, and there’s nothing punitive, they say, about being home wearing an electronic ankle bracelet.


The Rock County Jail Diversion Office now monitors about 60 inmates daily, diversion Sgt. Brent DeRemer said.


Spoden expects that number to climb to 85 by mid-March.


Cost savings

The jail diversion office has software that monitors inmates on the bracelet 24/7.


Inmates wear the bracelet on their ankles and carry a transmitter. Officers are alerted when an inmate breaks a curfew or is somewhere he or she is not supposed to be.


While the rules are strict, the bracelet is less disruptive to an inmate’s family life or job than jail, Lt. Russ Steeber said.


“This process got us looking at whether jail is really where people always really need to be,” Steeber said. “I think that’s a very forward-thinking type process.”


The more inmates sleeping at home with bracelets on their ankles, the more beds are open at the jail.


In March 2005, the jail population was so high Rock County started housing inmates in other county jails. It peaked during 10 days in March 2007, when 99 Rock County inmates were sleeping in other county jails.


The number dropped to 45 by mid-June, dropped to 25 by late September and hasn’t been over 20 since Dec. 27, according to sheriff’s department data.


The drop in out-of-county inmate housing corresponds to a rise in the number of inmates out on bracelets.


The bracelet program started in 2001, but rarely were more than 15 inmates out at a time.


The program exploded after Spoden took office.


On Jan. 1, 2007, the jail had 12 inmates at home on electronic monitoring.


Spoden became sheriff the next day, and by the end of the month the jail had 43 inmates on bracelets.


By March 2007, an average of 55 inmates were on the bracelet for a monthly savings of $94,300, DeRemer said.


By December, the diversion office was averaging 66 inmates on the bracelet for a monthly savings of $108,600, DeRemer said.


For the last few weeks, the number of inmates locked in the jail has dropped below the facility’s rated capacity of 477, Spoden said.


If that continues, he will bring the remaining 20 or so inmates housed out-of-county back home by the end of the summer, he said.


Sauk, Columbia, Fond du Lac and Juneau counties charge between $52 to $55 per inmate per day to house Rock County inmates in their jails. That doesn’t include the overtime and fuel charges for Rock County deputies transporting inmates, Spoden said.


Spoden said the cost to house inmates in the Rock County Jail depends on what expenses are counted. He estimates the total is more than $60 per inmate per day if overhead such as wages, equipment and facilities is included.


Spoden said staff are in the process of re-evaluating the daily cost of housing inmates in Rock County, he said.


For the privilege of staying at home, inmates on the GPS bracelet pay $16.88 per day, which covers the cost of the bracelet and other equipment, DeRemer said.


“They pretty much pay for equipment,” he said. “It’s not a free ride. It’s a privilege.”


“Community corrections is the growth area of this department,” Spoden said. “We are committed to alternatives.”


Increased control

Saving money isn’t the only benefit of putting inmates on the bracelet, Spoden said.


“It’s a substantial savings,” Spoden said. “But secondly, it takes advantage of our ability to use technology to monitor these people that normally wouldn’t be.”


The vast majority of Rock County Jail inmates automatically get Huber privileges as part of their court sentence. That means inmates are allowed to be out of jail up to 12 hours a day six days a week to work, provide child care or attend doctor’s appointments.


“All they’re doing is sleeping at the jail,” Spoden said. “The bracelet in fact gives us more control over inmates than Huber.”


It’s so much control, Spoden said, that some inmates refuse to wear one. For now, they have that right, but some Wisconsin Democrats are working to change that.


Sen. Judy Robson and Reps. Mike Sheridan, Kim Hixson and Chuck Benedict in January co-authored a bill that would take away an inmate’s right to refuse the bracelet, Spoden said.


Robson said the Rock County program is progressive compared to other counties around Wisconsin.


“Rock County leads the way,” she said.


The group is waiting for co-sponsors for the bill. As soon as it’s ready, it will go to the Senate and Assembly, Robson said.


Is it punishment?

DeRemer reminds inmates that it’s a privilege to wear a GPS bracelet instead of staying in jail.


“You get to sleep in your own bed and eat your own Cheerios,” DeRemer is fond of saying.


But is it punishment?


Spoden thinks so.


“We’ve actually had inmates that do not want to go out on the bracelet,” Spoden said. “They think it’s too restrictive.”


Spoden gets to decide which inmates are right for the bracelet after they are sentenced to jail. Rock County District Attorney David O’Leary said each case must be considered individually to determine if the bracelet is a good punishment.


“Every case deals with human beings,” O’Leary said of the GPS bracelet and other jail alternatives. “We have to decide how to make sure that they have learned their lesson and make sure we have given them a chance not to re-offend.”


But Rock County Judge Jim Welker thinks incarceration is really the only way to teach offenders a lesson. Putting a bracelet on a repeat drunken driver is more of an inconvenience than a punishment, Welker said.


“If all that happens to me is I get to wear a bracelet,” Welker said. “What the heck? Where’s the motivation in that?”


OTHER JAIL ALTERNATIVES

In Rock County, the RECAP and Community RECAP programs give judges alternatives in sentencing, allowing for shorter sentences in combination with participation and success in the programs, Sgt. Laurie Sprecher said.


-- About 40 inmates are in the RECAP program at the jail, Sheriff Bob Spoden said. The program has been in place since 1992.


Through the program, inmates learn job skills, anger management and parenting skills. Addiction treatment is available.


“It deals a lot with the education component,” said Lt. Russ Steeber. “Let’s face it. A high school education is barely getting by.”


-- The community version of the program has had 74 clients since the program began in 2007. It offers many of the same programs as RECAP.


But it offers a safety net as former inmates or people whose cases are moving through Rock County courts try to get into a clean life outside of jail, Sprecher said.


Sprecher said 99.9 percent of Community RECAP clients have some form of substance abuse, although the program is available to those without addictions.


“I don’t think people understand just what the extent of substance abuse is in our community,” Sprecher said. “It’s amazing how many people have substance abuse issues in our community.”


A future alternative

By this summer, Spoden expects another option to be underway.


The sheriff’s office plans to launch a new program to let minor offenders pay their debt to society by volunteering for local nonprofit organizations.


In September, the criminal justice coordinating council gave the sheriff’s office the go-ahead to study the feasibility of forming a “workenders” program in Rock County.


Workender programs allow people to serve time or pay off fines through weekend community service rather than sitting in jail. For example, someone sentenced to 10 days in jail would work every Saturday and Sunday for five consecutive weekends.


During the week, they would be free to live their lives.


Lt. Russ Steeber, who’s spearheading the project, said the sheriff’s office is staffed to handle a force of 15 to 20 inmates every weekend until the end of the year.


“If it starts to take off, we may have to have the sheriff find more staff,” Steeber said.


The program would give inmates the chance to give back to the community rather than sitting in jail “eating Honey Buns,” Spoden said.


“The community is getting something back,” he said. “Maybe not cash, but labor.”


The future of the jail

Someday, the Rock County Jail will be expanded.


But Sheriff Bob Spoden is not ready to come forward with a cost estimate for the project. In October, he told the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council his forthcoming proposal would make better use of existing facilities than did the $56 million plan the county scrapped in June 2006.


Here are some highlights of the proposal Spoden is fine-tuning:


-- The jail would have 800 to 900 beds. It is currently rated for 477 inmates but has frequently exceeded that number during the last several years.


In late February, the number dipped below 477, Cmdr. Tom Gehl said.


-- On the east side of the building would be three new units housing 64 inmates each. The units would be decentralized, which means inmates would eat meals and socialize in their group of 64—not in one big cafeteria serving the whole jail.


-- The jail will work on the concept of direct supervision, meaning staff would work and walk among the inmates. From cells, inmates could get to the common area to eat, watch TV or exercise outside. Cells could be locked down for punishment or during emergencies.


-- The building would use video visitation, which will open up visitation access.



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