PontiacApril 16, 2008
Tether pilot program aims to prevent jail overcrowding
By Jennie Miller
C & G Staff Writer
PONTIAC — In lieu of asking Oakland County taxpayers for $90 million-$100 million to build a new jail and another $20 million per year for operating costs, officials have entered into a pilot tether program to reduce jail overcrowding.
The program, which is now under way, gives judges within Oakland County’s 6th Circuit Court the authority to consider non-violent felons for participation in the tethering program once they have served 50 percent of their required jail time.
“Jail overcrowding is plaguing Oakland County, as well as the state,” said Judge Wendy Potts. “I’ve had to release 2,500 convicted individuals since 2005 on early release. Many of these people have absolutely no oversight, and some just walk. I’m pleased we are able to take part in this.”
County officials have been researching initiatives to curb jail overcrowding. With a state-mandated maximum jail population of 1,828 prisoners, the county remains below, but close.
“We have to constantly look for more ways to operate cost effectively and efficiently,” said Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard.
Yet the safety of the general public is a top priority.
“All of our efforts are intended to keep the population safe and secure, but to prevent jail overcrowding,” said Oakland County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bill Bullard Jr., R-Highland Township.
Judicial Services Group of Waterford will provide the Omnilink offender-monitoring devices that will be used in the six-month pilot program. Once the program is well under way, it is estimated that 30 tethers will be passed out each day.
“This is the first tracking device that tracks people very accurately, both indoors and outdoors,” said Daniel Graff-Radford, vice president of sales for Omnilink Systems. “It uses redundant cell tower triangulation, so we can track (offenders) anywhere, anytime.”
Board of Commissioners Liaison Jim Cavanaugh tested the device on April 9. Attached to his ankle, the tether was pre-programmed with the locations of his office and his home, and the conditions were that he return to his home within 20 minutes of leaving work. He stopped at Arby’s on his way home, and the monitoring system alerted the authorities.
“They caught me,” Cavanaugh said. “My next stop would have been jail. If you violate the conditions, you’re back in the clink.”
The company’s monitoring center is located in Georgia, with staff working around the clock managing the alert systems and notifying proper authorities of any infractions.
“It’s like a command center down there,” explained Jeff Kirkpatrick, president of Judicial Services Group, adding that the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department has established a protocol for how to respond to violations.
Individuals who are eligible for the tether program are those considered to be low-risk offenders.
This excludes those convicted of violent or assault crimes, sex offenses, escape offenses, most controlled substance offenses, certain weapons offenses, those who’ve had institutional behavior problems, and those who are enrolled in a court-ordered treatment program, work-release or the Sheriff’s Boot Camp.
“There are a number of people who are eligible,” Potts said, adding that the sentence will include either home confinement or work release. “They will be monitored, and if they violate (the conditions), they will be returned.”
Cost savings is expected to be great, according to Bullard. An inmate is estimated to cost the county $95 per day to be jailed, he said, and these electronic monitoring devices are a fraction of that cost.
“Across the country, we’ve found that it’s between 1/8 and 1/16 of the cost to keep someone on the tether program,” Graff-Radford said.
The electronic monitors are just one way the county is attempting to meet the jail population directives mandated by the state while still keeping the public safe and costs down.
“We’ve made some great efforts and great strides,” said Oakland County Commissioner Eileen Kowall, R-White Lake, a member of the Oakland County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. “We are taking a big step forward (with this program), and I’m sure it’ll be successful.”
For more information about this and other initiatives set forth by the Oakland County Board of Commissioners and the Oakland County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, visit www.oakgov.com/boc.
For more information about Omnilink Systems, visit www.omnilinksystems.com.
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