Home Detention Idea Beset With Problems


Work-release Program Is Better Alternative

September 22, 1991|By Sharon Hornberger

The county commissioners say they hope to start a home detention system here and will seek bids from manufacturers.

But let's examine what Carroll has now, before we throw open the prison gates in favor of electronic home incarceration.

If the main objective in home detention is to generate income andreduce the cost of housing prisoners, why not consider expanding thework-release program?

Prisoners on work release pay a fee for their maintenance at the jail. They are covered by their own employee benefit programs, reducing prison health-care costs.

The Community Service Program could also be expanded. This cost-effective program puts prisoners to work in jobs arranged by state and county government agencies, as well as non-profit organizations. People in the community receive the benefit of the prisoners' labors.

Prisoners have worked in soup kitchens, food-distribution centers, state mental health facilities and road crews.

They have worked with the needy of our community in jobs that otherwise are difficult to fill. Prisoners return their labor to the society they have victimized.

Several former prisoners have secured full-time employment through the Community Service Program after their release. For some, the community service jobs provided a first opportunity to acquire skills and a work ethic.

Sheriff John H. Brown assures us that "You don't give a murderer home detention, or a rapist or a child molester."

True. But those prisoners are not housed in the Carroll County Detention Center anyway. They are in the state penitentiary.

Most prisoners in the detention center are sentenced to 18 months or less. Several inmates there are from other jurisdictions, which pay Carroll to house and feed them.

In repeated polls, citizens state that they want criminals to be housed in an environment that deprives them of their liberties and comforts.

To retain prisoners in their homes allows them to continue to enjoy the comforts of that home -- their own beds, TVs, VCRs, cable programming, home-cooked meals, refrigerators with snacks and drinks, the pleasure of a hot shower or bath whenever they want, and, most importantly, the companionship of family and friends.

I can name you many countians who, because of tight economic times, work several jobs and never get to enjoy their own homes and families in the manner that home-detention prisoners will.

How will inmates be chosen for this preferential program?

What arrangements will be made if the crime victim was a member of the prisoner's household? Certainly, these prisoners cannot be allowed to return to their homes.

Does this leave the county in a position where the prisoner can say he or she has been discriminated against and deprived of the opportunity of the home-detention system?

Warden Jack Hinton has described home detention as being a less expensive way to house prisoners.

True, we may not need more bricks and mortar for prisons. But to monitor prisoners 24 hours a day, we will need additional employees to man the video display screens and the telephones that place random calls. Without human monitors, what good is the system?

Who will respond when alarms are activated by the monitor's signal, advising that a prisoner has gone beyond the boundaries of his confinement area? Is thisthe responsibility of state or municipal police, or officers designated by the monitoring designated by the monitoring system?

Anyone who thinks that these video telephone units will not be damaged or stolen has not considered the program or the people who will be monitored by these devices.

Before the county starts taking bids from home detention system manufacturers, it should carefully examine the programs in place.

Let's also contact the Maryland Division of Correction and other jurisdictions in the state and evaluate their programs' successes and failures.

Let's understand that home detention is no magic solution to prison overcrowding in Carroll -- before we unlock the cells.

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