CANYON COUNTY — It’s always better bang for the taxpayer buck to keep someone outside prison walls rather than inside, Idaho Department of Correction Probation and Parole Chief Henry Atencio said, and GPS technology is a way to help that happen.
And whether it’s defendants awaiting trial or Idaho taxpayers who are footing the bill, it’s a fraction of the cost of keeping an inmate behind bars — at the state level, it costs less than a tenth of what incarceration costs. Qualifying Canyon County jail inmates, meanwhile, can return to the community at zero taxpayer expense.
And while other jail programs such as the inmate labor detail are being cut, Canyon County spokesman Joe Decker said this one’s not going anywhere.
It’s a tool, according to Canyon County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Scott Booth, that allows authorities to better mitigate some public safety concerns.
“It’s a way for us to track them and identify problem behavior at an earlier time than if we didn’t have that tool,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Office typically has about 30-35 GPS ankle bracelets out in the field at any given time, Booth said, and most of them are monitoring defendants awaiting trial. It’s up to the judge presiding over each case to decide who’s eligible for release and whether the terms will include a bracelet.
The Idaho Department of Correction’s program works a little differently, Atencio said: At the state level, they’re dealing with offenders already convicted of crimes. And it’s the individual probation and parole officers who, along with their supervisors, decide who gets a monitoring device.
Different products offer different options, Booth said, to provide the monitors and those being monitored with feedback. Authorities will receive email or text message alerts if a defendant wanders into an area they’re not supposed to go, and the defendant may get a vibrational alert on their end.
In theory, those being monitored can’t remove the devices themselves, although Atencio said the rare, determined offender has gotten out of them on occasion. But even then, authorities will receive a tamper alert and perform a follow-up investigation.
So how much does it cost, and who pays for it? The defendants themselves, Booth said. They rent the devices directly from a locally based vendor for about $10 per day — the county doesn’t get in the middle, and doesn’t pay or receive a penny. Incarcerating a defendant awaiting trial in the Canyon County Jail, meanwhile, costs taxpayers about $47 per day, not including medical costs.
There’s no typical ballpark for how long a defendant will wear the device, Booth said. It could be anywhere from a few days to several months, and the bills can add up fast. So what if a defendant can’t pay? Well, he said, it’s like any other condition of pre-trial release: If they can’t meet it, they stay in jail.
It works a little differently on the state side, Atencio said — the probation and parole division has about 20 GPS units out in the field, for which they pay $4.05 per day per offender out of its operating budget.
That’s a significant savings, he said, over the $50 per day it costs to keep an inmate behind bars in an Idaho prison, he said. And it comes with another benefit as well: If they’re out in the community, they have at least the potential to pay taxes instead of costing taxes.
“It’s a better value. If we can keep them in the community safely, that’s key for us,” he said. “They’re able to maintain employment, they’re able to support their family, pay their restitution. It’s much better for everybody involved, if we can do that safely.”
Author: by John Funk
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