Advertisement

Berkeley sheriff to research home-confinement option

February 16, 2001

Berkeley sheriff to research home-confinement option



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith said Thursday that monitoring prisoners through electronic bracelets at home could be far less expensive than keeping them in the Eastern Regional Jail.

He said he also wants to have prisoners who can afford it pay the costs of their electronic confinement.

He received permission from the Berkeley County Commission to go to the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va., and do research on the idea as a way of saving money for the county.

The commissioners learned last week that the state plans to increase daily meal costs for prisoners from $39.50 to $43.25. The costs will be passed on to the counties. That will add between $200,00 and $300,000 to the Berkeley County budget, depending on how many prisoners are incarcerated.

The commissioners have said they will have to reduce expenditures or increase taxes to meet the increases.

Advertisement

"We're looking at home confinement" and having prisoners bear some of the costs, Smith said. "I can't see citizens of the county wanting to pay for the increased costs of housing prisoners. And I don't want to increase taxes. I think we have an adequate tax base."

Smith said prisoners could wear the electronic bracelet around their wrists or legs. Through global positioning satellite technology, officers can keep track of people and know when they leave their homes.

That would entail costs, Smith said, but it might be only one-half to one-quarter of the current costs of housing prisoners. He said most of the county's 123 offenders are nonviolent.

He said such a system has been tried in Washington state and he wants to learn how it has worked there.

County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said the system is no cure-all for budget woes. Electronic interference from cell phones and pagers can render the bracelets ineffective. Inmates also have been known to break them off and run, she said.

"In theory, he's absolutely correct" that they will work well and save a lot of money, Games-Neely said. "I do think it will save some, but not as much as the county thinks."

She also said she warned county officials and others years ago that this kind of situation would arise if the counties supported closing their jails and turning authority over to a regional authority controlled by the state. The state could increase costs and stick the counties with the bills, she said.

"I told them they were making a mistake," she said.

The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|