Home detention of inmates decided on case-by-case basis, prison officials say

June 20, 1993|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,Staff Writer

A judge's recommendation for home detention will not always result in Harford criminals serving their sentences outside the county jail in the electronic monitoring program, law enforcement authorities say.

"We do not have enough staff to handle more than 20 on home detention at any one time," says John J. O'Neill Jr., acting warden at the overcrowded Detention Center.

The county has had an average of 17 inmates on home detention since the program began 23 months ago.

The capacity at the jail is 160 inmates. The average daily population is 265 and the facility has been crammed with as many as 300, says Mr. O'Neill, who took over management of the jail in April after Maj. E. Dale Zepp of the Harford Sheriff's Office retired amid controversy surrounding the handling of an inmate's death there last year.

While judges may recommend home detention for a specific inmate, says Dfc. Charles R. Gill, coordinator of the program at the Detention Center, the investigation of each case and implementation is left up to jail staff members.

"A judge may not know, for example, that parents of an inmate don't want an individual back home," says Deputy Gill. In such a case, the chance of an inmate participating in the program is greatly reduced.

Any inmate previously convicted of a violent crime, or having a history of escape, would be disqualified from entering the program, he says, adding that severe problems with drugs or alcohol are additional reasons for denying home detention.

Typical candidates for the program are nonviolent persons who are not at risk to try to flee the area. For example, petty theft, shoplifting and people who write bad checks would stand a good chance of getting into the program.

"Sometimes, when we have 20 in the program, we have to turn someone down, or delay getting them into the program," says Deputy Gill, adding that anyone from outside the county or serving a sentence of 30 days or less would be turned down.

The time it takes to interview each applicant and investigate his background, complete an on-site inspection of his home and install the electronic equipment just doesn't make it worth getting someone into the program for a short period of time, says Deputy Gill.

Two civilian counselors from the Detention Center's classification staff help Deputy Gill with interviews and investigations. Other deputies, drawing overtime pay, help with on-site random visits and monitoring. "We have had no escapes since starting the program," Deputy Gill says.

For Deputy Gill, an escape is anyone who is not at home for one hour without official permission, by court order or for a medical emergency.

Deputy Gill says a few curfews have been violated, such as an inmate out for work release who does not return home on time. If a curfew is missed by five minutes, the inmate may be removed from the program, Deputy Gill says.

"One guy was due back by 6 p.m., but only worked a half day," Deputy Gill recalls. "He came home, but left and returned before his curfew. That still was a violation and he was removed from the program."

To track violations, the county leases electronic monitoring equipment. Inmates are assessed a $6.50 daily charge, which covers the full cost, Deputy Gill says.

An applicant accepted into the program must have a voice analyzer computer installed and linked to his home telephone. The inmate also must wear an electronic anklet.

The anklet contains a radio transmitter which triggers a signal to computer equipment at the Detention Center if the inmate goes farther than about 75 feet from the monitoring unit in his home.

The transmitted signal automatically dials the inmate's telephone for a voice test. If he is not there to accurately repeat four or five randomly selected words, the voice analyzer will alert deputies at the jail.

Every day, the Detention Center's main computer prints a log of each inmate's "tests" for review by jail personnel. "If anyone has broken the rules, it will stand out in those [computer] reports," he says.

Reports of inmates removing the anklets and setting them beside their voice analyzer while they are away committing crimes can't happen with the equipment used in the county, Deputy Gill says. As soon as someone removes the anklet, a radio signal triggers for a voice test. Since the test words are random, there is no way to fool the computer, he says.

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