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Confines of home free up big bucks

March 16, 1998|By AMY WALLAUER

Confines of home free up big bucks

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County has saved nearly $100,000 in six years by keeping some defendants prisoners in their own homes instead of paying for a $38 per-day jail stay.

Under home confinement, defendants wear ankle bracelets that track their location, keeping probation officers aware of who is abiding by the house arrest.

"We get a lot of DUIs and bond cases," said Mark Hofe, chief probation officer for the 23rd Judicial Circuit Probation Department, which serves the Eastern Panhandle.

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"They can work and maintain their lifestyle to an extent," Hofe said. "They can't go anywhere except for work, so their families don't have to go on public assistance."

Since 1992, 16 people have been under the home monitoring system, some serving their sentences, others out on bond awaiting trial, for a total of 2,300 days.

Defendants pay $6 per day for monitoring; $4 is for renting the equipment and $2 goes into the county's general fund.

The county pays nothing.

Defendants wear an ankle bracelet, which is electronically linked to a box in their homes. The box is hooked up to a telephone line, which is connected to a monitoring center in Cincinnati.

The waterproof bracelet has a range of 100 to 150 feet.

"There's nothing you can't do in it, except get away," Hofe said. "As long as you are in range, everybody's happy. If you go out of range, the machine in the home will get on the phone, call the monitoring center and send an electronic message that the defendant has left the home."

The penalty is automatic jail time, Hofe said.

"We did have a guy last week who took off and went to the movies," Hofe said. "He tried to call his probation officer because he wanted to go out for an evening, which we wouldn't have allowed anyway, and he couldn't get hold of him."

He's now in the Eastern Regional Jail.

"He knew it was coming," Hofe said.

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