For almost two years, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department has been at the forefront of implementing a home detention program for low-level, non-violent offenders that has saved Pima County taxpayers $450,000 and counting.
422 enrollees; 0 escape attempts
Created in April, 2015, by India Davis and Corrections Lieutenant Elsa Navarro, the Sheriff’s Home Detention Program originally only applied to people convicted of misdemeanor DUIs. Recently the program has expanded to include people convicted of other misdemeanors and some low-level, non-dangerous felonies who have been sentenced to jail time, although alcohol-related convictions still compose the majority of the program. For years such people have been allowed out of jail during the day to go to work, but have been required to return to the jail each night as part of a program known as “work release” or “work furlough.” The Home Detention Program allows these people to spend nights in their home, while equipping them with a GPS ankle bracelet that constantly tracks their location. The GPS system is accurate to within 10 feet, and each bracelet emits a ping every 5 minutes to constantly inform the jail that enrollees are where they are supposed to be. The system can be adjusted to ping every 60 seconds if necessary, and the jail automatically gets an alarm if an enrollee attempts to tamper with the monitor or ventures within 5 miles of Pima County limits, a train station, airport, or any other exclusion zone that the jail can set, such as a victim’s house. 422 people have enrolled in the Home Detention Program since its inception, and there has not been a single attempt to escape or remove a GPS monitor. As part of the vetting process each enrollee is required to sign a Notice of Intent to Prosecute, informing them that any escape attempt will be prosecuted as a class 5 felony, punishable by up to two years in prison.
“A very stringent vetting process”
“We are very selective about who gets into the program,” interim Corrections Chief Sean Stewart told The Pima Liberator. “There is a very stringent vetting process, and we don’t want to set anyone up for failure.” As part of that process all potential enrollees are required to fill out an Inmate Interview sheet, where they must disclose all of their residence information, work information, vehicle information, and criminal history. They are also required to sign an Inmate Agreement that includes the following provisions:
Even after people are enrolled in the program and equipped with a GPS monitor, they are still required to report to the jail in person once a week for alcohol and drug testing.
Keeping the community safer
A key concern with work furlough and work release programs is that law enforcement cannot know for sure if a person is actually going to work when they are released from jail during the day. In one instance a person on furlough was released to go work, and jail personnel did not hear from them until they received a call from Border Patrol telling them that the same person was caught coming back from Mexico while attempting to smuggle a load of drugs in to the U.S. “Home detention is much safer for the community than work furlough or work release,” said Captain Stewart. “In this program the jail knows where you are at all times, and tells you where you can and cannot go.” The Home Detention Program is staffed by 5 Sheriff’s Sergeants who log into the system daily to make sure all enrollees are where they are supposed to be – a fail-safe backup to the system’s built-in, automatic notification software. One additional Pima County Sheriff’s Sergeant has the full-time assignment to monitor and evaluate all enrollees. According to Captain Stewart, Lieutenant Navarro, and Captain Darin Stephens – three corrections officers who oversee the Home Detention Program – they would like to see the program expanded to included people in jail awaiting trial. “The average Pima County jail stay is 10 days. No one should be in jail for 10 days; they should either be in jail until their trial or home,” said Captain Stewart. If someone has a job and is not a threat to their community “they should be allowed to keep working, support their kids, and pay their taxes.”
Effective and fiscally responsible law enforcement
Funding for both the Home Detention Program and the Pima County Jail comes from the Pima County Sheriff’s Department budget, which comes from the county general fund in the form of property tax revenue. The Pima County Jail costs taxpayers $89 per inmate per day, compared to the Home Detention Program which costs only $11 per inmate per day for GPS ankle monitoring, and $15 per inmate per day for GPS and alcohol monitoring. Thus the Home Detention Program costs taxpayers almost 500% less than jail time, which has translated to a saving of $450,000 in taxpayer money since the Program was created in 2015.
The Pima County Sheriff’s Home Detention Program is exactly the kind of forward-thinking, effective, and fiscally responsible law enforcement that we should be promoting and supporting. According to Captain Stewart, the Home Detention Program can only continue to succeed with judicial and community buy-in. Our prosecutors and judges need to make more people eligible for home detention. The only practical limit to the potential size of the program is the number of people in Pima County Jail – both awaiting trial and serving a sentence – who are not a danger to the community, and who should be out of jail working and contributing to society. For every tax dollar we spend on GPS home detention we save exponentially more dollars by not locking people up. We also increase the employment rate, decrease the number of people who need public assistance when they get out of jail, and prevent families from being torn apart by needless and unjust incarceration policies.
– Joel Feinman