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Home confinement program may be expanded

February 28, 2002|By SARAH MULLIN

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Commission will discuss today the cost of expanding the county's prisoner home confinement program in an effort to cut the cost of jail bills.

The Eastern Regional Jail budget for the 2002-2003 fiscal year exceeds $2 million, an increase of more than $250,000 from last year, according to Howard Strauss, president of the Berkeley County Commission.

Increasing the number of those monitored during home confinement could save the county more than $500,000 a year, he said.

Each county served by the jail - Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan - pays about $45 per prisoner per night at the jail.

The home confinement program is designed to make the individual pay. The three counties would establish a fee.

Only those involved in misdemeanor offenses and nonviolent crimes are eligible for the program.

"It makes crime pay for itself," Berkeley County Sheriff Randy W. Smith said.

Smith said he approached the commission about the home confinement program designed by the Boulder, Colo., company Behavioral Interventions because it is a way to save money and it works.

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Smith toured home confinement monitoring programs in six West Virginia counties, including Hancock, Brooke and Ohio.

"I was impressed by the cost effectiveness of it. We can take $1 million of the $2 million we save and direct it toward community projects. It is good management by good government," he said.

With the home-confinement program, the three-county network in the Northern Panhandle saved $7.8 million in jail and administrative costs between 1995-2000, John R. Lee, a probation officer, told the commissioners in September.

The home confinement program involves placing an ankle bracelet, which is a monitoring device, of the person to be confined. If the person leaves home, an alarm goes off.

Law enforcement is then notified to go to the home and the person is taken to jail, Smith said.

Strauss said there are five people in the home confinement program in Berkeley County and 12 in the Eastern Panhandle.

Currently, home confinement participants are not monitored at night or on weekends. The new system would involve 24-hour monitoring.

Behavioral Intervention is to supply the electronic monitoring program equipment, which includes a Guardserver 200 host system and monitoring units. The company also will train employees in how to use the monitoring system.

The company said the program could save each county $60,000 a month.

Behavioral Intervention has presented the commission with three options, which the commission will discuss at today's 9:30 a.m. meeting.

Smith said he prefers whichever option is most cost effective.

"It's a win-win situation for taxpayers, and it will free up funds for other county needs," he said.

The system is not without flaws, however.

Kyra Lynn Heleine, 19, of Falling Waters, W.Va., was on home confinement awaiting trial on a felony murder charge last September when she left her home and was killed in a car accident. Officials did not know she had gotten out then and on a previous occasion for at least two days, Circuit Judge David Sanders told the Berkeley County Commission in September.

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