Jail inmates sent home through GPS ankle bracelet program - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Jail inmates sent home through GPS ankle bracelet program

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Photo by Bruce A. Scruton/New Jersey Herald - Sussex County Sheriff's Investigator Hank Iwanowski explains how a GPS-based ankle bracelet works. Photo by Bruce A. Scruton/New Jersey Herald - Sussex County Sheriff's Investigator Hank Iwanowski explains how a GPS-based ankle bracelet works.
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By BRUCE A. SCRUTON

bscruton@njherald.com

NEWTON — An inmate with plenty of time left on his 90-day sentence will walk out of the Keogh-Dwyer Correctional Facility sometime today, but he won't be a "free" man.

The unnamed inmate will become the second "participant" in a program that puts adults into home detention with limited movements outside the home monitored by a GPS-based ankle bracelet.

The first participant — a term used by the Sussex County Sheriff's Department, which runs the program and jail — was released from the jail last week. He also was serving a 90-day sentence.

Sheriff Michael Strada said the program fulfills a campaign promise made three years ago to find more efficient ways to run the department and especially the jail, which consumes about $10 million of the county budget each year.

"Our biggest costs are medical and food," Strada said.

Any medical problem, even pre-existing conditions, are the responsibility of the sheriff once someone is in the jail. And the cost of doctors and prescriptions adds up.

Strada said that last year there were six inmates who could have been eligible for this new program who totaled $150,000 in medical costs.

That is on top of the approximately $100 per day cost to house and feed each inmate.

A bracelet program for juveniles has been in operation by the county for more than three years, allowing the county to close the Juvenile Detention Center. Serious juvenile violators are now housed in the secure facility in Morris County, and all others are under a home detention program monitored by ankle bracelets and probation officers.

There are different concerns for the adult program, where bail issues are a prime concern.

A recent study found that about 40 percent of the county jail population in New Jersey is behind bars because they can't afford bail. In addition, there is a segment of the population that, while serving a sentence, are non-violent offenders and may be better served by living outside prison walls.

Strada said about 10 counties in New Jersey have a bracelet program, but each county is operating on its own since there are no statewide guidelines or regulations.

"We came up with our own," Strada said as he showed a 16-page policy manual. "It's pretty stringent who can apply and be approved."

The policy was formally approved by Superior Court Judge Thomas Weisenbeck, the assignment judge who oversees court operations in Sussex County.

"We had input from the judges, from the defense attorneys, from the Prosecutor's Office and from local police chiefs," Strada said.

To run the program, Strada brought in Hank Iwanowski as an investigator. A retired state trooper, Iwanowski worked for more than three years with the company BI Inc., which makes the ankle bracelets used in the program.

While he worked for BI, the investigator ran the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement program that used the bracelets to monitor undocumented aliens.

Iwanowski said the device uses GPS technology to track where the bracelet is and has several features to send out alerts should the bracelet be tampered with, run low on power — the participant must charge the device every day — or several other situations.

There is also a beacon device for the home. When the bracelet is within a certain distance, the beacon causes the bracelet to shut down to save batteries. When out of range of the beacon, the bracelet reactivates. For those who think they can carry the beacon with them, it has a built-in motion sensor.

To get in the program, an inmate can apply and must be sponsored by someone not incarcerated. One requirement is that the participant live in the sponsor's home. The sponsor must also be willing to abide by requirements, such as no alcohol in the home.

Municipal judges have been given pamphlets to give defendants which explain the program and its limits.

For example, a participant is allowed to go to work, "but we know how long it takes him to get from home to work," Iwanowski said. "There's a little lag time built in, but probably not enough for him to stop off for groceries."

If there is to be a change in schedule, the participant must contact either Iwanowski or another deputy assigned to the program.

"We have their permission to call their employer, their doctor, anyone they may be dealing with to confirm that they're working overtime or have an appointment," the investigator said.

The local police are also notified of participants, who carry a special card that explains the program.

Eligible participants can be either those serving a jail term or those unable to come up with bail. The judge in the case must give approval along with the sheriff's department.

"The judges seem to approve," Strada said. "It's another option for the judge, a tool that they have. It's a win-win all the way around."

The participant "rents" the bracelet and assorted other gear from the sheriff's department for $10 per day.

There is also a $50 application processing fee, although "if they don't get in, they get that $50 back," Strada said.

The fees also include $20 per test for drugs or alcohol, done once a week without notice.

The first person released last week was serving a 90-day sentence for violating his probation. The one being released today also faces a 90-day sentence on his conviction for an eluding charge.

In all cases, the bracelet program will be as long as the sentence, with time credited for good behavior.

"We're going to ease into this program slowly, take it one step at a time," Strada said. "We want this to be successful and hope to have six or eight participants in a month or two."

Strada said savings with the program will definitely be the $100 per day but could mount into the thousands because of medical costs.

"We just don't know who will be walking through that door, medical-wise," he said.

Iwanowski said that in his time working with ICE the program averaged 165 to 285 monitored participants per day.

"We only had seven, eight try to cut the bracelet off," he said and added there was one immigrant who wore a bracelet all 3 1/2 years he worked there.

"This (Sussex County program) has a lot more consequences if you violate," Iwanowski said. "It's a very strict program."

But even with the strictness, he said the initial reaction from last week's release appears to be working.

"He is extremely happy and said, 'I'm in my own bed.' He says he will be successful," the investigator said, "because he wants to be the first to complete his sentence."

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