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Berkeley County to begin home confinement program

May 17, 2002|BY SARAH MULLIN

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Commission signed a contract Thursday with a Colorado company, taking the first step toward implementation of a home confinement program for prisoners.

Commission president Howard Strauss said once Behavioral Interventions representatives arrive and meet with the Sheriff's Department and judicial officers, the program will go into operation.

He gave a tentative start date of June 1.

He said currently there are 10 people eligible for the program. Only individuals involved in misdemeanor offenses and nonviolent crimes are eligible.

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The commission hopes the program will decrease the amount of money the county spends on incarcerating people.

"This is perhaps the best suggestion we have to cut our jail bill costs," Strauss said.

In the fiscal year 2002-2003 budget, the county allotted $2 million for jail costs, a $500,000 increase over last year's budget.

The county has to pay about $43 per prisoner, per night at the Eastern Regional Jail.

As of July 1, the per diem cost will increase to $45.

Proponents of the home confinement program point out the individual involved pays for their own confinement.

Individuals on the home confinement program will pay $7.50 a day or an amount equal to one hour of the wage of their current salary.

The cost to lease a transmitter and receiver monitoring unit ranges from $3.69 to $4.78 a day.

The home confinement program involves placing an ankle bracelet on the individual. The bracelet acts as a monitoring device, so if the individual leaves the home, an alarm goes off.

Commissioner John Wright said if Berkeley County were an alcohol-free county, there wouldn't be a need for home confinement because the jail bills wouldn't be as high.

He said Sheriff Randy W. Smith told him 50 percent of the people incarcerated at the jail are there for alcohol-related reasons.

He added a magistrate told him there are about 2,000 DUI cases a year in the county.

"Home confinement is a savings to what we're paying now, but if we were a dry county I don't think we'd pay hardly anything at all in jail," Wright said, adding the county is "saturated in alcohol."

Wright said he was concerned about the person who is on the program and still continues to drink.

"I'd hate to think of the guy who is snookered, goes home and beats his little woman and smacks his kids around," he said.Strauss advised Wright that there is a sensing device that can be leased, which requires the person to blow into a machine that is connected to a phone line. The alcohol reading on the machine is transmitted to the monitoring center and reported to the Sheriff's Department.

The device is a spot-check system, which can be activated at any time.

"It's an enormous social problem," Wright said.

Morgan County has already implemented the program and Jefferson County will soon, Strauss said.

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