A growing number of McLennan County inmates are on electronic monitoring in lieu of going to jail, but the increase means the county is incurring more expenses for indigent offenders who cannot afford to pay for the program.
There now are 65 county inmates on electronic monitoring, the highest number of offenders who have been on the program at one time, according to Ronnie Marroquin, manager of the Waco branch of Recovery Healthcare, which administers the program.
The county began the electronic monitoring program in October 2012 as an alternative to jail in an effort to lower the county’s jail population and its costs of housing inmates.
But a significant number of those inmates are indigent, meaning the county has to pick up the cost of their daily ankle monitor service.
Of the 65 on the program, 31 are deemed indigent and the county pays between $7 and $7.50 per day for them to remain on electronic monitoring.
The McLennan County Commissioners Court on Tuesday approved allocating an additional $30,000 to the program to cover projected costs for indigent offenders through the remaining four months of the county’s fiscal year.
But Felton said the additional costs for the program are more than offset by savings the county receives from not having to house those offenders at the county jail.
“In one way it’s bad news that we have to put more money in there (for electronic monitoring), but the alternative is if the indigent weren’t on the ankle monitoring program they’d be in our jail,” Felton said. “So us subsidizing the ankle monitoring to the vendor is really, in a way, good news.”
The current budget for the program is $49,934, and all but $3,422 has been spent so far, according to figures from the county auditor’s office.
The county spent $61,912 on the program for the 2013 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.
The daily cost for housing an inmate at the county jail is about $50, while the county pays $45.50 per day for each inmate placed at the neighboring Jack Harwell Detention Center, which is managed by private jail company LaSalle Corrections.
The county had about 1,173 inmates Tuesday, including 247 who were at the Harwell Center, said sheriff’s office Capt. John Kolinek, who oversees the jail. Felton said the jail population has been as high as 1,300.
The county spent $5.1 million to house overflow inmates jail last year, $1.3 million more than budgeted, because of overcrowding at the county jail.
Electronic monitoring is only available for low-risk, nonviolent misdemeanor offenders and is given to inmates at judges’ discretion. Inmates who do not qualify for indigent status pay the costs of their own electronic monitoring service, which ranges from $8 to $8.50 per day.
Felton said he expects the number of people on the program will continue to grow as judges become more comfortable using the service as an alternative sentencing option.
“I think the results show that we’re saving money for the taxpayers, yet keeping them safe as well,” Felton said.