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August 23, 2010

Texas counties having success with home-detention technocorrections alternative punishment

This local story from Texas provides another example of all the cost-saving innovations in corrections finding a measure of success in the Lone Star State.  The piece is headlined "Dallas County's alternative sentencing program lets low-level offenders do time at home," and here is how it starts:

What's the difference between a stark jail cell and the comforts of home? For a few lucky Dallas County criminals, the answer is nothing.  Under the county's alternative sentencing plan, certain low-level offenders discharge their sentences under ankle-monitored house arrest, giving them the opportunity to keep their jobs, eat home-cooked meals and enjoy the interaction of family and friends.

"I think the program is better than jail," said Arletha Baker, who was released from the program's restrictions recently. "You get to touch your family. ... I have a very helpful family."

Alternative sentencing is also helping Dallas County's bottom line. Since its inception Sept. 1, it has saved the county $366,016. And officials expect that figure to reach $400,000 by the initiative's first anniversary in two weeks. That's double the $200,000 budgeted by county commissioners last year to launch the program, which they approved after observing a similar program in Brazos County.

Designed to replace the old work-release program that allowed offenders to work during the day and then return to jail on nights and weekends, alternative sentencing is used for criminals with offenses ranging from misdemeanors such as hot-check writing, low-level theft and DWIs to state jail felonies that have been reduced to misdemeanors.

Notably, as the article details, this form of alternative sentencing incorporates technocorrections and it "is not without critics":

Kevin Brooks, chief of the felony trial bureau for the district attorney's office, said, "There are real concerns" with the program and that the DA's office does not support it. He said it does not help public safety and that participating offenders are "not being punished for the offense they're convicted of."

He said he would prefer a revamped work-release program in which offenders paid the full cost to the county. "Where's the punishment for your offense, [if they] have the creature comforts of home?" Brooks said.

But County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who heads the county's jail population committee, said "You can't lock up the world. At the end of the day, you've got to manage your resources." Offenders, who are called clients, pay about 90 percent or more of the cost for their monitoring equipment, as opposed to the $10 per day work-release offenders paid the county.

"The monitoring fees come out to a reasonable amount," said Rebekah Truxal, program manager for alternative sentencing.  She said the cost is $8 to $10 per day for most clients, plus the cost of keeping an active home phone during their sentence.  For DWI cases, judges can require additional monitoring that increases the cost.

The monitors are programmed to allow clients to travel to their jobs or school, if they are students, at certain times of day and then return directly home.  They are accurate to within three feet, officials say.

August 23, 2010 at 07:53 AM | Permalink

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