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Electronic monitoring devices a useful tool for court system

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013 11:46 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013 5:02 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Kyle Grillot – kgrillot@shawmedia.com)
Intensive probation officer Mark Skiles demonstrates how radio frequency monitoring devices are fitted on Lori Danczyk, supervisor of special units, at the McHenry County Courthouse. Electronic monitoring devices can be used for offenders and defendants to protect and oversee cases involving orders of protection, probation, domestic violence and home confinement.

Some convicted adults and juveniles are monitored after incarceration or as an alternative to spending time behind bars.

McHenry and Kane counties use electronic monitoring programs to keep a watchful eye on people considered a threat to offend again, youth on house arrest or those barred from someone by an order of protection.

The common ankle bracelet tracks the whereabouts of an individual through the use of radio frequency or a designated area through GPS satellites.

McHenry County has the ability to monitor 30 people but has never had all units deployed at once, said Roger Bacon, chief managing probation officer. The Intensive Probation Supervision program started in 1990 and requires at least 90 days of radio frequency monitoring for high-risk felony offenders in lieu of jail time.

The county uses GPS tracking for serious domestic violence cases. 

There are currently four people being tracked through the use of radio frequency monitoring, and since 2010, only three people have been monitored with GPS.

“It enhances community safety,” Bacon said.

Both tracking programs are offender paid – $8.50 a day for radio frequency and $10.50 a day for GPS. An officer oversees those being monitored daily.

“Electronic monitoring has paid for itself,” Bacon said. “We are a small county, and we utilize technology very appropriately.”

As an alternative to sending juveniles to detention centers ­outside of the county, electronic monitoring is used as part of a home detention program.

There are currently 11 juveniles with court-ordered radio frequency ankle bracelets. Two designated officers, who also perform random home visits and drug tests, monitor the program.

The juvenile program has a 90 percent success rate, said James Edwards, chief managing officer of the county’s juvenile division.

The Associated Press queried a sample of corrections, parole and probation agencies across the U.S. for alarms logged in a one-month period and for figures regarding the number of people monitored and the number of officers watching them.

Twenty-one agencies that responded to the inquiry logged 256,408 alarms for 26,343 offenders in the month of April and showed that officials are struggling to handle the alerts with proper protocols in place.

McHenry County has seen only three major violations in the past year through the adult programs. Random alerts due to power outages or lost satellite signal, among other things, are common occurrences, but usually are responded to within a half-hour through a phone call or home visit.

“It’s only as good as the officer that is monitoring it,” Bacon said. “We never just put that monitoring device on and use that as the sole method of supervising someone.”

In larger Kane County, staff members have been added over the years to the Electronic Home Monitoring Unit, and the overtime budget has been increased by about $27,000 annually to keep up with those being tracked.

The staff includes five electronic monitoring officers, three juvenile homebound officers, one field hybrid officer and one on-call supervisor.

Adult electronic monitoring officers travel between 400 and 600 miles weekly servicing equipment, conducting home visits and verifying that offenders have left their homes for court-approved purposes.

Thirty-one adult offenders are currently monitored by radio frequency or GPS tracking, said Matthew Peterson, unit supervisor. Twenty-seven minors are tracked through radio frequency ankle bracelets.

An additional 21 offenders are tracked through active or passive GPS monitoring, which like McHenry County, alerts authorities if someone under an order of protection enters a “restricted zone,” or area that the court has order to be a protected area for the victim. 

An offender fee covers at least the equipment costs.

“While the fees the offenders pay do not cover the program in full, there is a significant cost savings to the county by not having to house offenders who are not high risk,” Peterson said. “Program populations fluctuate based upon individual care circumstances, offender cooperation, arrest levels and court proceedings.”

Winnebago and Boone counties do not have electronic monitoring programs.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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