Confining some inmates at home gains support State officials say program is less costly than jailing

October 04, 1998|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Support for confining some inmates at home rather than in jail appears to be increasing among defense lawyers and prosecutors in Carroll County.

Proponents say that home detention saves money and alleviates crowding in the county detention center, and that it should be reserved in nearly all cases for nonviolent offenders.

"If we're talking about home detention for nonviolent criminals, being confined at home is punishment enough in some instances," said Jerry Joyce, assistant state's attorney. "Not everyone in jail is a bad person, but a crime has been committed and they need to be punished."

Melissa O. Hockensmith, whose specialty is prosecuting domestic-violence cases, said she became more amenable to home detention this year, when a private company monitoring a defendant she had prosecuted was quick to report a violation of probation to the court.

"I feel more comfortable about home detention, but never for violent offenders," she said.

Private monitoring companies becoming more available and affordable might make it easier to obtain alternative sentencing for clients, said Judson K. Larrimore, a veteran public defender in Westminster.

Stringent criteria to qualify for home detention are in place, said Larrimore. The cost of monitoring has generally been the main stumbling block.

"Carroll County has no home-detention program and hasn't wanted to pay for one," Larrimore said. "And many defendants, especially those who can't afford a private attorney, obviously can't pay the cost [$8 to $12 a day] to be electronically monitored by a private company."

Larrimore said he has had approximately two clients who were sentenced to home detention rather than jail.

Last week, Brian Green, Larrimore's colleague in the Carroll public defender's office, successfully sought home detention for client involved in a domestic assault last fall. Visiting Circuit Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe granted it, despite the violent nature of the crime.

Bothe heard testimony that William W. Swartz, 27, has remained sober since the incident in October 1997. He pleaded not guilty but did not contest the state's assertion that he punched his pregnant girlfriend's brother so severely that the man's nose and facial bones were fractured.

Bothe also sought assurances from Timothy P. Schlauch -- an addictions counselor and owner of Alert, a private home-detention program operating as a subsidiary of Contemporary Counseling Services -- that Swartz would be closely monitored.

Schlauch operates both companies from offices in Baltimore and Westminster.

Home detention is not for every defendant and not for every judge, Schlauch said.

Schlauch would not discuss specific cases, but he said he would accept a client only if he believed he could provide successful counseling and safe monitoring.

Private home-detention companies typically use an ankle bracelet with a built-in transmitter to electronically keep tabs on a client.

Depending on conditions of probation set by a judge, Schlauch's clients generally must stay at home unless working or keeping appointments with a probation agent, doctor or counselor.

In Swartz's case, he is permitted to be out of the house for up to four additional hours a week to attend church or tend to personal business, such as getting a haircut.

Random checks, day and night, are made to ensure the client complies, Schlauch said.

Coupled with counseling, Schlauch said, the program gives lawyers and judges a viable option.

"Home detention is still punitive," said Green. "It's definitely not a slap on the wrist. It saves money and makes sense, especially when the punitive aspect is combined with treatment."

Swartz agreed to pay $70 a week for the combined service, about the same amount he would have paid if Bothe had sentenced him to jail and granted work release.

Larrimore said judges might also see compelling reasons to grant home detention.

"In cases where child support or other family obligations are a factor, home detention can be a very effective way to resolve matters," he said.

Statistics for more than 15,000 offenders who completed the state's home-detention program between 1990 and last year show that 99 percent did not get involved in crime in the first year after completing the program, according to the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

About 4 percent of those studied failed to complete the program or were arrested on new charges.

State officials estimate that home detention costs $18 a day, in contrast with $44 a day to keep an inmate in prison.

The monitoring provided by a private company should not be compared with the state's Correctional Options Program, which focuses on nonviolent criminals who have been released or diverted from prison after a comprehensive assessment, said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., spokesman for the state corrections department.

Schlauch agreed.

The state program is detention-based, he said. "It's monitored by trained correctional officers with arrest powers. If they find an offender, they can place him back in prison immediately."

The eight private home-detention companies operating in Maryland can't do that so quickly, Schlauch said. Private firms must file a report, alleging a violation of probation, and try to get a judge to sign a bench warrant, he said.

Pub Date: 10/04/98

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