McELHATTAN -The Clinton County Correctional Facility makes a great deal of money by bringing inmates outside of the county into the institution, but could it save money by sending in-county inmates out?
That was the crux of a discussion at the prison board meeting Wednesday, when the dialogue turned toward the benefits of and drawbacks to electronic surveillance.
There is some evidence placing electronic ankle bracelets on sentenced offenders, particularly those arrested for drunk driving or other similar offenses, might work to the local prison's advantage, particularly when it comes to work-release inmates.
BILL CROWELL/THE EXPRESS
Clinton County Adult Probation/Parole Officer Brian Rippey holds a SCRAM, an alcohol/electronic monitoring system, more commonly referred to as an ankle bracelet, in his hands.
Just how much remains up in the air, but staffing costs, electricity, meals and medical expenses would likely see some decrease, according to Deputy Warden David Harkey and Warden Thomas V. Duran, who said the concept deserves investigating.
The global positioning system (GPS) bracelets offenders would wear 24 hours a day could also provide better security, since it is monitored heavily for the offender's location. They also have the additional benefit of being able to tell, via a cardiogram-like spike in a graph, whether the wearer has violated regulations by using alcohol or drugs.
On the other side of that equation is the possibility of community safety problems and the need to monitor inmate movements in the community.
The prison board agreed the idea needs to be studied and there was no rush to judgment at this time.
Depending on which firm delivers the service, GPS monitoring can be combined with a large array of programming of benefit to the agency most likely to run the program, the county probation department.
As for benefits, the software could monitor wearers to ensure they attend school, go to jobs or participate in treatment programs during the day, then return to their homes at night.
The GPS equipment would cost about $8 per inmate a day, Harkey said, and the program could be designed to require the inmate pay that fee on a monthly basis or lose privileges.
Right now, there is no jail congestion locally, Duran said, but such a program could open up some cells should the state or federal authorities seek to house more inmates locally, an ongoing arrangement that has benefited the prison and county government in recent years.
Right now, Duran said, the prison is housing 198 out-of-county inmates and 102 inmates from Clinton County. The state's Department of Corrections has assigned 99 inmates to Clinton County, which is allotted 120 slots.
Judge J. Michael Williamson asked prison officials to "come up with a number" as to the cost of housing a work-release inmate in any given year, versus the cost of maintaining an ankle bracelet.
According to Duran, work release inmates pay maximum $37 per day for the privilege of being able to continue employment, and District Attorney Michael Salisbury said the county uses a bracelet system right now on a limited basis, at a cost of about $8 per day.
As for the cost of the bracelets themselves, they run about $1,000 each, according to Williamson, and have been used locally for just about every minor offender, including some juveniles.
As part of the conditions for being relatively free, the defendants are charged a rate of about $240 per month, Salisbury said.
The most attractive targets for such a service, unfortunately, are those who have second and third convictions for drunken driving, Williamson said, and in those cases, the state has mandatory sentencing guidelines that require prison terms.
Ditto for the crime of retail theft, a popular repeat offense that is seeing an increase in the number of female inmates, he added.
Commissioner Joel Long asked, "If the people we let out are paying a fee, are we really saving money if we get a per diem rate anyway (for work release)?"
Duran said the prison recoups about $15 a day of that entire rate because it charges 23 percent of gross pay rather than the entire amount. He said it didn't make sense to charge so much that the work release inmates aren't supporting their families as required.
Adding more financial demand on inmates might not make sense, according to Williamson, who pointed out the county is owed about $3.5 million in unpaid fines, court costs and outstanding restitution over the past 30 years "that can't be collected."
The question becomes relevant only if the prison is reaching its maximum capacity of 400 inmates, however, and if the demand for cell space continues.
Just last month, the monthly billing for out-of-county inmates amounted to $319,784. with the DOC and Homeland Security comprising the lion's share of those bills.
That demand remains an uncertainty, according to Duran, who said the state is continuing to build state institutions to house more of its own prisoners, to the likely decrease in numbers at the local prison.