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Prisoners' system studied

May 14, 2001

Prisoners' system studied



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Commission is eyeing a home monitoring system for prisoners that could save the county more than $1 million a year in incarceration costs.

Sheriff Randy Smith on May 10 introduced to the commission representatives from a Colorado company that makes high-tech home monitoring equipment. Also at the presentation in Martinsburg were officials from Cabell County, W.Va., who use the equipment.

Cabell County Home Incarceration Director Tom Bevins told the commissioners that Cabell County saved $1.6 million last year because of the lower costs of having prisoners wear the ankle devices at home. Prisoners also pay to be in the home-monitoring program. Those payments raised more than $200,000 for Cabell County last year.

"This is the best proposition I've had in a long time to save money," said Commissioner Robert Burkhart.

The county will spend $2 million for the year starting July 1 to house its prisoners at the Eastern Regional Jail - up from $1.6 million this year. The rise in cost is due to increased incarceration costs passed on by the state, which will charge the county more than $40 a day to house its prisoners.

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Home monitoring costs about $4 a day, officials said.

BI Inc. of Boulder, Colo., provides the equipment to Cabell County and 2,600 other agencies. Jock Waldo, BI's vice president for business development, estimated Berkeley County could save half of its jail costs by putting a home monitoring program into place.

He displayed a variety of devices BI Inc. offers to public agencies. They include an ankle bracelet and the unit that monitors it, an in-home breathalyzer to check for alcohol and a drive-by device that officers can use to check whether a prisoner is at home.

Waldo said technology has advanced considerably in recent years, reducing concerns expressed by some in law enforcement that prisoners could disable the devices.

"No one has been able to tamper with (the system) so that we're not able to tell," Waldo said.

"Yes, there's failure, just like anything else. But if they don't do what they're supposed to do, then we just put them in jail," Blevins said.

Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said she has been skeptical of the system. But she is willing to work with other local law enforcement officials to see whether some system can be developed here.

"The premise is basically good," she said, although she said she would not like to see home monitoring allowed for murderers or sex offenders. "There are some limitations. It's not foolproof, but neither is jail."

The commissioners asked five leaders of local law enforcement to meet and advise them how to proceed.

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