Douglas County soon will employ a high technology solution to the persistent problem of jail overcrowding.
On Monday, the county commission approved the use of electronic monitoring and house arrest by the community corrections department for selected misdemeanor offenders convicted in district court.
Community Corrections has used electronic monitoring successfully since 1990 with some of its felony offenders involved in its Intensive Supervision Probation program, said director Mark Matese. He said he thought using electronic monitoring with misdemeanor offenders also would prove successful.
"The primary reason that people will get put on there is because they need additional structure and curfew," he said "And I really believe that the clients that are assigned to electronic monitoring see this as a real alternative to spending time in the county jail, or in prison, and they value that."
The commissioners' decision should keep about 24 misdemeanor offenders out of the overcrowded county jail this year. The offenders affected by this decision include those convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol, misdemeanor theft or temporary deprivation of property.
THE COURT will determine which offenders will serve time under house arrest through the watchful eye of electronic monitoring.
These offenders are not part of the structured community corrections program, but Matese said they would be required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings and outpatient treatment and provide verification of employment.
The electronic monitoring device looks like a small black and white television. The device, which is connected to the telephone line, sports a small camera lens with a screen measuring 2 inches by 3 inches.
When called, offenders look into the camera and transmit their picture to Telemonitoring Systems of Kansas, based in LaCrosse. The company then transmits the picture to the county to confirm the offenders' compliance.
OFFENDERS are called periodically during the day and night at their homes. The company also asks the offenders personal questions, such as their mother's maiden name, their birthdate or social security number to confirm that the person pictured is the offender. Calls also are placed while offenders are asleep as a means to check on them.
If an offender fails to answer a call, the company calls back within 20 minutes. If the second call goes unanswered, the company will notify either community corrections or the sheriff's department, depending on the time of day.
Matese told the commissioners Monday that although electronic monitoring is effective, it does not ensure the public safety.
"All this does is tell us where a person is or isn't, he said.
Electronic monitoring costs from $5 to $6.50 a day, depending on the number of calls made. The cost is 50 cents a day extra if offenders are issued a breathalizer. Offenders must show the breathalizer's reading to the camera if they are given the device. An offender may stay under house arrest for as long as 120 days.
Matese said the offenders were expected to pay for the cost from the wages they earn at their jobs.
"Our goal is to make this a self-sustaining type program," he said.
Money is available to cover the cost when indigent offenders are involved.
Matese said he views electronic monitoring as a tool to assist his staff do their job.
"It can help us to monitor curfews," he said "It helps our surveillance officers and our ISP officers cover more ground."