Home detention attracts private firms Some judges in favor

critics fear laxity

July 07, 1996|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

An article that appeared Sunday misstated the employer of Donovan Kisamore, a participant in a work-release program. He works for Rockingham Construction Co.

The Sun regrets the error.

For Donovan Kisamore and hundreds of other Marylanders convicted of minor crimes, home is not only where the heart is, but where the monitor, ankle strap and jail sentence are, too.

Private companies have joined government agencies in watching over petty offenders who are ordered to serve home detention instead of jail time -- offenders such as Kisamore, who is serving time at his Middle River home for a battery conviction.


Jails in Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard and Harford counties and correctional facilities in Baltimore and elsewhere in the state have home-detention programs aimed at saving money and reducing jail crowding. But in recent years, about a half-dozen companies have sprung up, some of which offer services that government-run programs do not: statewide coverage, modern equipment and individual treatment plans.

"There's definitely a call for it -- this is the alternative that's the way to go," said Elizabeth A. Winchester, who recently opened ** Advantage Sentencing Alternative Programs Inc. (ASAP) in Towson.

Minor offenders on home detention through private companies number at least 400 in Maryland; the number of people in government programs was not immediately available.

Some law enforcement officials wonder whether private companies do the job correctly -- questioning, for example, how well their employees are trained and how strict their monitoring is.

Saving time, money

Judges, who determine whether a criminal enters a private or government-operated program, are using the private programs.

Those on home detention through jail programs often are locked up for a few days while they are processed or wait for equipment, with taxpayers footing the bill.

"I'm not too anxious to send someone to [Baltimore County's home-detention program] if they could sit there for four days or five days or a week until something opens up," said county

Circuit Judge Alfred L. Brennan Sr., who likes the home-detention programs that least interrupt the detainee's freedom to work.

That's what Kisamore, 25, is doing. He continues as a crew leader for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. while on privately monitored home detention.

Home detention is strict. Kisamore must get permission to run an hour's worth of errands -- to the grocery store or barber shop, for example -- and show receipts or other proof of having been there. Otherwise, he must stay home.

"You have 15 minutes to get your butt home," he said. "And if you're not home, they're coming to look for you. You don't play no games."

On his ankle is a tight black strap with a transmitter about twice the size of a pager, and a receiver is connected to his telephone. If he leaves a limited area -- his home and front porch -- the transmitter moves out of range of the receiver, alerting the Rockville headquarters of Home Confinement Services Inc.

That sets off a flurry of phone calls, and the company, once it finds its client, will bring him or her before a judge if there is no valid reason for the absence.

The program run by the Baltimore County Detention Center, by contrast, makes random computerized phone calls to criminals serving home confinement, a system some private operators say is flawed because detainees can predict when the calls will come in and subvert the process.

Rise in companies

Companies that monitor criminals at home began springing up about a decade ago. John T. Kent, a newcomer to law enforcement, opened Home Confinement in 1988 because he saw a need for servicing people statewide.

For example, he said, a Baltimore resident convicted of driving while intoxicated in Anne Arundel County could be on home detention through the Home Confinement program and still keep a job. But home-detention programs run by most county jails serve people only within that jurisdiction, so that defendants from elsewhere would be ineligible.

Also, government-run programs often have limited monitoring supplies, which curbs the number of people allowed in the programs.

Charlene M. Dunn, a criminal defense lawyer who opened Alternative Correctional Concepts Inc. in Fells Point in 1994, offers rehabilitation as part of the service, for no extra charge, for offenders whose crimes are related to drug or alcohol addiction -- a service she said falls by the wayside in some government programs.

"It's not a priority there. It's our top priority," she said.

Most private programs charge criminals $2 or $3 per day plus an hour of the detainee's salary a day -- a standard rate in this industry for both public and private home detention. The private companies receive no reimbursement from public funds.

The companies make detainees wear monitoring equipment and subject them to surprise checks and drug or alcohol testing -- just like government-run programs.

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