Criminals getting new fashion accessory
By Jane Beathard
Some day next week, a defendant from one of Madison County’s adult criminal courts will earn the dubious distinction of becoming the first to undergo electronic monitoring at home via an “ankle bracelet.”
County budget constraints and an exploding jail population recently forced Madison County Sheriff Jim Sabin, Municipal Judge Eric Schooley and Common Pleas Judge Robert D. Nichols to consider alternatives to jail cells when dealing with law breakers.
At an Aug. 17 meeting of the county commissioners, judges and local law enforcement officials, Sabin announced plans to obtain GPS active trackers, commonly called “ankle bracelets,” for selected prisoners on house arrest.
The sheriff expects to take delivery of 20 devices by Friday.
It all comes down to money.
The county will spend $7 per day to maintain a prisoner wearing an ankle bracelet.
It currently costs $45 per day to house each inmate that exceeds the local allotment at Tri-County Regional Jail in Mechanicsburg. Madison County shares the jail’s 156 beds with Champaign and Union counties. Jailers have stretched the number by adding bunks, but that cannot continue.
“It puts stress on the facility and state guidelines won’t allow it,” Sabin said.
The problem has been brewing for months as local law enforcement agencies struggle with heavier court dockets and more probation violations. On Aug. 13, Tri-County’s total population stood at 177 inmates, with another 12 from Madison County housed at the Mercer County Jail in northwest Ohio.
Diverting prisoners to Mercer County is equally expensive and inconvenient for family and friends seeking to visit.
“We have no other choice,” Sabin said.
Overages could cost Madison County an extra $575,000 this year to house jail prisoners, Sabin said.
On Aug. 17, Nichols attributed the growing number of jail inmates to an increase in local drug-related offenses, more arrests for probation violations and restrictions imposed by Ohio’s new sentencing guidelines. Those guidelines aim to reduce the state’s prison population by referring first-time, low-level felons to community programs and county jails.
The situation is likely to get worse instead of better, Nichols noted.
GPS tracking will allow Tri-County staff to monitor movements of ankle bracelet wearers on house arrest. Violations will automatically alert the jail, as well as local law enforcement officials.
“We’ll know where they are,” Sabin said.
A programming function will allow wearers to travel to regular jobs. Court-approved meetings with doctors and lawyers will require advance notice to jail staff.
“It can be beneficial for inmates who are employed or have responsibilities at home such as child care,” Sabin said.
He expects court staff will screen defendants for eligibility. Judges will likely use ankle bracelets to restrict the activities of people awaiting trial or as a condition of sentence for those already convicted.
It’s likely that some defendants will break the rules and “test” the technology.
“Once everyone understands how well (ankle bracelets) work, they will be compliant,” Sabin said.