New gadgets give offenders on electronic monitoring no where to hide
Franklin County Adult Probation office is watching more than 100 offenders through the use of electronic gadgets
By Jim Hook
CHAMBERSBURG — Automated facial recognition is the latest technology that the county is using to keep tabs on offenders who do their time outside the walls of the jail.
Franklin County Adult Probation office is watching more than 100 offenders through the use of electronic gadgets:
• An offender takes his breath test without an officer present. Facial recognition technology on a hand-held Breathalyzer assures officers that the offender is the person taking the breath test.
• Another offender under house arrest wears the familiar electronic ankle bracelet that sends an alarm if the person strays.
• Another offender is ordered to keep away from his spouse's home and work. A global positioning system alerts officers if he violates the space.
The electronic monitoring programs are used to divert lower risk offenders from the Franklin County Jail.
Probation has 137 offenders on electronic monitoring. The jail has about 400 inmates.
It costs more than $60 a day to jail a person. Electronic monitoring costs about $10 a day, and an offender pays the cost of his or her electronic monitoring.
Courts have been using GPS monitoring and alcohol monitoring more and more in recent years, according to Shawn Burkhart, probation's chief deputy. Offenders once subjected to longer jail sentences, especially in driving under the influence cases, may find themselves under electronic monitoring or home confinement as part of their mandatory minimum jail sentences.
The county has used electronic monitoring since 1995.
"We've been using GPS monitoring since early in 2011 and remote alcohol monitoring, utilizing various different electronic devices, since 2004," Burkhart said. "The technology and devices have changed a lot, and for the better, since then."
Probation has four people on GPS monitoring, 55 on alcohol monitoring, 44 on home confinement and 34 on both alcohol and home monitoring.
If an offender violates home confinement, on-call probation officers are notified and respond immediately. In the event of an alcohol violation, the data is evaluated by the monitoring center and reported to the officer the next day, Burkhart said. The monitoring agency can determine if the positive alcohol reading is actual consumption or environmental interference. Reports and testimony from the monitoring agency have been upheld by the courts.
"Offenders rarely violate the alcohol monitoring program," Burkhart said. "We may see a violation once every few months, and those (people) either get channeled into more intensive treatment programs or have their cases violated in court and end up in jail."
The latest remote alcohol monitoring device uses "government security grade facial recognition," not just photographs, according to the county's vendor.
Probation officers can get more frequent information without having to visit the offender, according to Franklin County Commissioner Robert Thomas.
Probation officers are still required to visit the offenders in the community on a regular basis, and officers still administer breath tests with manual devices when they see the offender, Burkhart said.
According to the county's Intermediate Punishment Plan, offenders are billed a one-time fee of $25 plus daily fees of $12 for GPS monitoring, $10 for alcohol monitoring and $8 for home confinement. County commissioners recently signed a contract with vendor Alcohol Monitoring Systems Inc.
Offenders who have a job must pay their fees weekly. Those unemployed have the fees added to their fines and court costs, which they must eventually repay.
County court has a protocol for assigning offenders to electronic monitoring. Known as intermediate punishment, the sentencing lies halfway between jail time and probation. Intermediate punishment aims to divert non-violent and substance dependent offenders away from incarceration and into intense supervision with treatment. The county's plan is to have the offenders keep their obligations to their families and communities and to change their behaviors. At the same time, strict monitoring and supervision of the offenders protects the public.
A probation officer can increase supervision levels in response to infractions, Burkhart said.