02/27/09 — Devices saving county jail costs

View Archive

Devices saving county jail costs

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 27, 2009 1:46 PM

Seven of the 25 new electronic monitoring devices approved earlier this month by commissioners already have been put into use and another seven could soon be added.

The use of the devices, which has to be ordered by a judge, allows the county to monitor people in pre-trial and those who have been sentenced to save money and reduce the strain on a chronically overcrowded jail.

The program doesn't mean the county will not have to build a new jail, but it could help lessen the scope and cost of building, County Manager Lee Smith has said.

Smith has estimated that a new 500-bed facility would cost the county $53 million.

Commissioners on Feb. 17 appropriated $16,535 to expand the electronic monitoring program.

At that time Theresa Barratt, Day Center Reporting director, told commissioners that all of the county's current 15 units were in use and that there was a waiting list.

The units will not only help relieve overcrowding at the jail, they will save the county a considerable amount of money -- $4 per day per person versus about $45 to have a person sitting in jail, she said.

Most pre-trial defendants are with the program for about seven months.

It costs the county $840 monthly to electronically monitor someone as opposed to $9,450 to keep a person in jail -- a cost that does not include medical bills.

Since July 1, the program has saved county taxpayers $600,000, she said.

"The taxpayers have not had to pay to have them be in jail," Ms. Barratt said in an interview.

She called the $16,535 "a drop in the bucket" compared to the savings realized by the county.

For every $1 the county puts into electronic monitoring, it gets $4 back, she said.

It costs the county slightly more than $4,000 per month to lease the monitoring equipment compared to $67,500 to house the defendants in the jail, she said.

Commissioners have asked state lawmakers to grant county governments the authority to recoup some of the costs associated with the program -- something they are barred from doing at present.

Less than 5 percent of the people who go through the program become repeats, Ms. Barratt said.

She noted that eight of the new units are "cellular." Those units allow the county to call people on the program who do not have a telephone. The units cannot be used to make outgoing calls, she said.

Ms. Barratt said 50 percent of the people in the program are employed. The units allow those people to continue to work rather than to sit in jail.

Also, those in the program who are not working are performing volunteer work or taking classes, she said.

Pre-trial release always has been monitored and supervised to ensure the public's safety.

People in that program are required to take educational classes, obtain their GED, as well as work on behavioral issues and obtain job skills, she said.