Sheriff defends decision against home detention Monitoring systems have flaws, Brown says

August 26, 1997|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Sheriff John H. Brown, who drew fire last month for dismissing plans to operate a home-detention program at the county jail, says critics don't understand the problems with home detention or with the electronic system he rejected.

Brown, a Republican, shrugged off criticism from challenger Kenneth L. Tregoning, saying he is not certain that home detention is a viable way to cut costs or eliminate crowding.

Last week, the jail housed 153 inmates, about 33 more than its capacity. By using a meeting room, the jail's capacity can be stretched to 144 without undue concern, Brown said.

Construction of a $6 million, 100-bed addition to the jail won't be started until October, Brown said.

"Sheriff Brown said he wrote a section of the law in 1993 that allowed certain nonviolent criminals to participate in the [home-detention] program," Tregoning said. "If [Brown] was that interested in the program, why has he waited so long to condemn it?"

Tregoning, a veteran state trooper who opposed Brown as a Democrat in the 1994 sheriff's race and is running as a Republican in the 1998 primary election, questioned why Brown would not want to save taxpayers' money.

State Division of Correction officials estimate that home-detention programs have saved state taxpayers $51 million since 1993, Tregoning said.

That estimate is based on fees collected from offenders and expected savings for not having to build more prisons and pre-release units to house program participants, Tregoning said.

Brown said that he has not abandoned the idea of home detention. However, the sheriff's staff conducted a test of a system sold by a Pennsylvania company, and the test showed serious flaws, he said.

A home-monitoring device costs $20,000 to $25,000, Warden Mason Waters said. "We're not going to leap to purchase such a unit that is unreliable. Our first job is public safety."

Brown also cited controversy in Prince George's County, where a grand jury is calling for state regulations on home-detention system vendors.

Police informants in Prince George's County testified that offenders have used drugs or money to bribe employees of private monitoring agencies to look the other way rather than report violations.

In one incident cited by the sheriff, a 21-year-old woman was raped just 10 minutes before a prisoner on electronic home detention was due at an Upper Marlboro office to have his home-detention monitoring device checked.

"The man is charged in raping five women while he was on electronic home detention," Brown said.

Raymond E. Beck Sr., administrative judge for Carroll County, said he knows of the controversy involving private businesses providing home-detention services. But Beck said that in some instances, he has ordered home detention.

The circumstances of a particular case have to be right, said Beck, enumerating required conditions such as "nonviolent offense, first-time offender, no risk to flee, employed and, perhaps, obligated to make child-support payments."

Beck cited a case involving a Baltimore County woman convicted in Carroll last year of auto manslaughter.

The woman was employed, had a 16-year-old daughter to support and completed her sentence last month in a private home-detention program.

"She was a home-detention star," said Beck.

Whether or not Brown adopts a home-detention service would have no impact on the judges and courts in Carroll County, Beck said.

"It's the sheriff's call on whether he wants to commit the time and money to provide such a program in Carroll County," he said.

Harford County has used home detention successfully since 1991, said John J. O'Neill Jr., warden of that county's detention center. Harford pays $3,000 a month to rent 20 units, which include the ankle bracelet and home base unit, he said.

"Inmates pay $10 a day to be in the program and it has been very reliable," O'Neill said. "We are planning to upgrade to a system that also includes an alcohol sensor," he said.

O'Neill uses one full-time deputy to monitor each offender on home detention.

"We have had inmates tamper with the equipment on occasion, but we've never had a case where we were not immediately alerted to a problem by the system," he said.

Pub Date: 8/26/97

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