State plans to double inmates in home detention program

January 08, 1993|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,Staff Writer

Citing an 80 percent success rate over the past two years, the state plans to almost double the number of inmates in the home detention program by midsummer, corrections officials said yesterday.

Currently, there are 354 inmates in the program and the number should increase to about 600 by the end of the state's fiscal year. State officials favor home detention because it is cheaper than incarcerating inmates and building new prisons.

Yesterday, corrections officials touted the program during a tour of the Central Home Detention Unit in Baltimore.

More than 2,000 offenders have participated in the program since it started two years ago, and about 80 percent completed the supervision successfully, the officials said.

Home detention allows inmates to serve their sentences at home rather than in prison. Participants are constantly monitored through a variety of electronic surveillance devices such as anklets, a computerized voice analyzer and drive-by officers who routinely check up on offenders.

Since the program started, 64 escapes have been recorded with all but a few caught a short time later. Six offenders have been rearrested for new crimes with only one resulting in a conviction, according to program administrator Richard A. Sullivan.

The program costs about $18 per inmate per day as opposed to the $44 per day it costs to keep an offender in jail.

So far, the program has saved taxpayers about $42.3 million -- the figure it would have cost to create prison space for the offenders now in the program.

Yesterday, corrections officials used William J. Riggins, an inmate serving time for breaking and entering and theft, to demonstrate the equipment.

Every day -- four or five times a day -- Riggins picks up his home phone after receiving a computerized call, and repeats the words, "basketball, barometer, temperature, umbrella and telephone."

This is not some sort of ritualistic mumbo-jumbo. But it's a chore Riggins must complete if he doesn't want to be sent back to the Baltimore City Correction Center to serve the remainder of his sentence.

Riggins repeats these words to a cnmputerized voice analyzer that verifies his identity with a voice print stored in the computer. If he fails the voice test or doesn't answer on time, the home computer sends a message to officers to check up on his location.

"It's been quite an experience to be in a program that gives you the opportunity to be with your family," said Riggins, 28, currently an assistant at the home detention center at 2100 Guilford Ave. "I got a break this time so I think I owe somebody for it.

"Temptations like walking outside cross every participant's mind," he added. "But if you follow the rules and know what you have to do, it's OK."

Riggins wears an ankle band containing a radio transmitter that sends signals to the main computer to verify his location. If he violates his permitted range, he will be subject to an escape charge and an immediate return to jail.

"Inmates have to be located within 45 minutes of a discrepancy or they are declared escapes," Mr. Sullivan said. "They return to prison after the first offense -- they're not forgiven."

Participants are also required to limit personal phone calls, maintain an alcohol and drug free home and remove all firearms from the home, he added.

Inmates serving life sentences, those with prior escape records, and child abusers are not eligible for the program.

Criminals serving time for violent crimes are eligible for the program only if they are within 90 days of community release.

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