Jails without bars

Published 6:46 pm Sunday, November 17, 2013

WINDSOR – Once used to track stray livestock, electronic monitoring of criminals actually debuted 30 years ago when a New Mexico judge inspired by a Spider-Man comic book, allowed a man who violated probation to wear an ankle bracelet rather than go to jail.

Use of the devices took off at the turn of the century as technology improved and lawmakers became enamored of electronic trackers as a cost-effective alternative to incarceration and a way of monitoring sex offenders for life.

Today there are 39 states that require monitoring with the biggest user of ankle bracelets being the federal government, which tracks people on pretrial release and probation.

Two types of devices are primarily used: radio frequency monitors that generate an alert when a wearer strays from a fixed location, such as a home, and GPS units that can track wearers all over a much wider area. Those GPS units can be set to sound alerts in real time or passively collect data for review later.

The key to making the devices work, experts say, is to figure out how best to process the amount of information theses devices generate.

Now a Kentucky-based company believes the devices can aid pre-trial detainees in the Roanoke-Chowan area. The company, Corrisoft, has begun training with MartinCounty law enforcement for use of the devices on detainees at the Bertie-Martin Regional Jail.

“We’ve had trouble with the jail being over-populated,” said Martin County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Tim Manning. “We have a lot of inmates that have medical conditions at the hospital (and) that takes away a lot of our time on the road; so this is a way we thought that might be able to relieve us from having to sit with these people.”

Manning said Martin County also believed the devices would help with certain incarcerations.

“Some of the ones that just sit in jail, say for child support over and over, and have jobs would have to stay in jail for 30 or 60 days and then they lose their jobs,” he added. “This might be a way to keep them working.”

Manning also pointed to other ways he felt the devices might be a deterrent for higher-level felonies.

“Say there’s a bond reduction and they’ve got somebody to get them out – well, they’re just out roaming the streets,” he said. “The judge could put a stipulation that they wear an ankle bracelet and that way we would know where they’re at and what they’re doing.”

A very important way Manning says he hopes Martin County would benefit is in saving the county money. Training for the Martin County officials had just begun this week and will be continuing.

Meanwhile, Corrisoft would like to see the devices used in BertieCounty. Despite Bertie and Martin counties sharing a joint detention facility, Martin County is in Judicial District 2, while Bertie’s approval would have to come from District 6B as well as Bertie’s county government.

Wednesday evening in Windsor Corrisoft representative Chuck Geveden made a presentation of his company’s product to a joint assembly of members of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners, 6B Chief District Court Judge W. Rob Lewis, members of 6B District Attorney Valerie Asbell’s staff, along with Bertie County Sheriff John Holley and Chief Probation Officer, Lorrie Green.

“We’ve kind of taken this industry by storm with the approach we have,” said Geveden. “We want to put a GPS tracking device on and also help (those incarcerated) get back on their feet by giving them the tools and resources with a recidivism deterrent system.”

Geveden’s primary focus at his presentation was his monitoring devices.  The company uses not only BLUtag ankle bracelets, but also Smartphone technology as well.

The small, lightweight tamper-resistant one-piece ankle monitors have anti-jamming or shielding capability and also use data from cell phone towers to track the movement of the wearer.

The cellphone technology is also used in Corrisoft’s low-risk Smartphones which are monitored from the company’s headquarters in Lexington, Kentucky call center and can be programmed with calendar events such as court dates, terms, and conditions of release.

Corrisoft also uses a medium-risk phone that works with a different ankle or wrist bracelet monitor and also provides alerts when the phone is not within a certain distance from a connection point.

Both phones also give alerts such as boundary, curfew, prohibited location, proximity and – if necessary – notation can be given if attendance is required, say at a court hearing. The phones also have tracking capability.

Geveden took questions from those assembled, particularly regarding costs, but all agreed that more information will be needed. No action was taken by the judiciary representative, law enforcement, or county government. The Corrisoft representative ended the evening pledging to return with more information when called.

The Bertie County Board of Commissioners have scheduled this item for discussion at their regularly scheduled meeting set for Monday (Nov. 18) in the Snakebite community of Windsor at Mt. Ararat Baptist Church on Cow Track Road.