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Home time eyed favorably

Proponents say home confinement, a program that allows convicted offenders to stay out of jail, will save the county money.

Proponents say home confinement, a program that allows convicted offenders to stay out of jail, will save the county money.

January 06, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG - Nearly everyone - police, corrections workers and elected officials - agrees that more people should be placed in a program that allows convicted offenders to stay out of jail.

Proponents say the program - home confinement - will save the county money and allow men and woman convicted of nonviolent offenses to provide for their families.

Fourteen people are now on home confinement in Berkeley County, said the program's director, Lt. Cheryl Henry Keller of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department.

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Participants avoid jail, but must wear an electronic bracelet and are strictly monitored.

"I think it's coming along nicely. I think it's a good program," Henry Keller said.

Those in the program include 12 men and two women convicted of charges such as driving on a suspended license or drunken driving, Henry Keller said. Most are serving six-month sentences.

Approved by the Berkeley County Commission, the program could help save taxpayer money. The county pays $45 a day for every person from the county in Eastern Regional Jail.

County Commission President Howard Strauss listed expanding the home confinement program as one of his 10 goals for the year 2003.

"Jailing people isn't the only answer," Strauss said during a recent commission meeting.

Strauss said he hopes 50 people will be on the program by the end of the year.

With just 20 people on the program, the county would save $27,000 a month. The most recent jail bill for the county for one month was $174,000, Strauss said. Overall, he said jail costs account for one-seventh of the county's $14 million budget.

Some savings made through the program will be used to hire additional deputies, Strauss said, since county voters did not pass an excess police levy on the November ballot.

Jail officials agree with the program, too, even though it takes money away from their budget.

At the barbed wire-enclosed Eastern Regional Jail off W.Va. 9 east of Martinsburg, jail director Ed Rudloff said 303 inmates were being housed Friday. The capacity is 300.

"Anything that can help relieve pressure out here, I'm not against it," Rudloff said.

On average, 289 inmates are kept at the jail, but the number sometimes goes up over weekends, he said.

It's a scenario that Rudloff said has not been cured in his nearly 14 years in the system.

"It has never gotten better," he said. "I think they have to see alternate ways to deal with the problem."

Statewide, several areas are using alternative sanctions, including home confinement, said Steve Canterbury, executive director of the Regional Jail Authority.

Speaking from his office in Charleston, W.Va., Canterbury said those offenders on alternative sanctions are less likely to commit another crime.

"With the right people, it has a dramatically positive effect," he said.

An advocate of home confinement, Canterbury said the program helps keep people employed and allows them to care for their families. It's practical, too.

"We simply don't have the money to lock up everybody," he said.

It is projected that the state will need a couple of thousand more jail cells in upcoming years at an estimated cost of $150 million.

Now, 2,632 inmates are in state jails, which have a total capacity of 2,112, Canterbury said.

"We have too much business. If alternative sanctions can take away some of that, I'm supportive," he said.

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Everyone agrees that only certain people should be on the program, including those who have a chance of being rehabilitated.

"The field is not called punishment. The field is called corrections," Canterbury said.

Defense attorney David Camilletti, whose offices are in Shepherdstown, W.Va., said he does not have any clients on home confinement, but has an application pending for a candidate.

"It's a tool that the courts need to have the flexibility to use," he said.

For certain people, "the jail experience isn't helping them or society," he said.

A person is not placed on the program on a whim. It begins with an attorney, who makes a motion to have a client placed on home confinement.

The candidate then fills out an application, and a background check is done.

That report is submitted to a magistrate, who decides whether to grant home confinement.

Before starting, an offender must fill out a contract, including an agreement to comply with several rules.

The offender must wear the electronic monitoring bracelet at all times and can leave home only for work or other approved activities.

Offenders must have electricity and phones in their homes, and must allow unannounced visits from deputies, Henry Keller said.

Entering a place where beer is sold, or possessing or consuming alcohol is prohibited.

Those on home confinement cannot have or use guns or other lethal weapons and must submit to drug tests at their own expense if asked, Henry Keller said.

Magistrates can impose additional restrictions on an offender if it is deemed necessary, Henry Keller said.

So far, one person's home confinement has been revoked for an alcohol-related offense, Henry Keller said. He was sent back to Eastern Regional Jail to finish his sentence.

"You get one shot. If you mess up, you go back to jail," Henry Keller said. "It's up to them."

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