County plans to monitor more inmates
Electronic devices will cut crowding at jail, reduce costs
February 10. 2014 6:00AM
Work-release inmates soon will be monitored from home using an electronic monitoring service.
The Minnehaha County Commission signed an agreement with BI Inc. of Boulder, Colo., to provide the monitoring service last week. The move sparked a wide-ranging discussion among commissioners and Sheriff Mike Milstead about crowding at the county’s regional jail.
Until now, inmates eligible for work release paid $30 a day to be housed at the community corrections center. Going forward, they will pay $15 a day and the county $5.20 a day for work release inmates to be able to live at home and be monitored electronically. The Sheriff’s Office will conduct site visits and random drug and alcohol screenings to ensure inmates adhere to work release rules. The charges reflect the county’s costs of administering the program, Commission Chairwoman Cindy Heiberger pointed out.
Commissioner John Pekas noted electronic monitoring was “a technological window that 15 years ago wasn’t available.”
Milstead called the program a relief valve for jail overcrowding. Some lower-risk offenders not on work release already are housed at the community corrections center, and a reduction in the number of work release inmates will free up space there. The center is at 1900 W. Russell St.
“We will not be able to take a lot of people from downtown and move them to the work release center. But we will have a more manageable number out there,” Milstead said.
Still, it’s an imperfect solution.
“These are regular jail inmates, and they probably should be downtown,” he said.
Milstead also said he is exploring other uses for electronic monitoring, though no decisions have been made.
Easing overcrowding has been under discussion for a while. Ideally, about 360 people would be in the jail, which was built to house 400, Milstead said. But recently, there were 425 people in custody, with the overflow going to the community corrections center.
The experience of the past weekend lends urgency to a need to come to grips with jail operations. Monday and Tuesday, the state’s attorney opened 34 new felony cases. “We’re probably on a record pace. The whole month has been busy,” State’s Attorney Aaron McGowan said. He added, “They’re not all low-level felony files. There are child rapes, kidnapping and multiple armed robberies.
“This may be a record for us. We’ve had three-day weekends where we’ve had an inordinate amount. But for a standard two-day weekend, we’ve been really busy.”
Alleged perpetrators of serious crime, though, were hardly the only people occupying jail cells. Milstead said of 78 people held over the weekend and making initial court appearances Monday, as many as half would be released on their own recognizance.
“Did they really pose a threat to society while they sat over the weekend occupying an $80-a-day jail bed?” he asked.
In addition to people in custody awaiting court appearances, inmates convicted of crimes and waiting to be sentenced make up a significant percentage of the jail population. Inmates typically spend eight weeks in jail between conviction and sentencing, Milstead said, and that can extend to as long as a year if a lengthy pre-sentence investigation is required.
While commissioners and the sheriff discussed the potential for electronic monitoring to shift some people out of the costly, crowded jail to much less expensive home detention, Commissioner Gerald Beninga also made the point it can help avoid a cascade of misfortune for those who are arrested, lose a job because they are incarcerated and subsequently are forced to seek county welfare relief for themselves and their family.