Ankle monitors help ease jail overcrowding

Greg Lee, KESQ News Channel 3 Reporter & Sports Anchor, glee@kesq.com
POSTED: 01:04 PM PDT May 01, 2013    UPDATED: 12:20 AM PDT May 01, 2013 
BANNING, Calif. -

Governor Jerry Brown has until Thursday to come up with a plan to solve the ongoing issue of prison overcrowding in the state.  A federal oversight committee threatened Brown with contempt of court if he doesn't give them an answer.  At the jail level, the Riverside County Sheriff's department has found a solution to ease some of their issues of being at full capacity.  The Supervised Electronic Confinement Program serves as an alternative to jail.  If selected, participants must wear an ankle monitor equipped with GPS for the length of their term.  "It gives them another chance, an alternative, as opposed to being in jail at least they can be out of jail, get a job, go to school," said Deputy Steve Barron.  

The program also opens up space in county jails and helps the deal with the problem of overcrowding. "It allows us to take some of those folks that would have been in custody, occupying that bed space, still supervise them, but they're now at home being supervised as opposed to taking up jail space."  Currently, more than 400 people in Riverside county wear the ankle bracelets, but not everyone's eligible.  "We have a strict checklist of who we allow on the program, we also run their criminal history, looking for not just the charges they're in on now, but what they've done in the past."

Eligible offenders must also follow certain criteria:
-sentenced to "weekends" or the Work Release Program
-pre-trial, pre-sentenced with approval from the Court
-live in Riverside County or within a reasonable distance
-must be able to spend a minimum of 12 hours in the house each day
-must be able to pay the daily monitoring fee, based on hourly wage
-most importantly, not have committed a high-risk sexual or serious violent crime.

The department triple checks each application before giving approval.  Lieutenant Turnier believes the program's a good transition for offenders to get back on track.  
"They can still go astray if that's what's going to happen, but they're more likely to stay the path because they know there's someone checking up on them," said Turnier.  The department triple checks each application before giving approval. Nineteen sworn deputies keep tabs on the participants.  They do random checks on everyone in the program once a week.  They can track the monitors with GPS on their phones as well as computers.  They also get alerted if a monitor is tampered with or if someone tries to get away. "Public safety, you know, make sure everyone's abiding by the rules," said Barron.  "So, everyone just has that blanket of security."
    
But, not everyone follows the rules. Earlier this month, deputies made a random visit to the home of Simona Gernay in Lake Elsinore.  They found more than 20 pounds of marijuana and more than 250 plants.  She went back to jail, less than a month after she started the program.  "Somebody could get away with something for a while, but sooner or later we're going to check them and find out what they're doing," said Turnier.

In Denver, a parole officer responded too late.  Evan Ebel's ankle bracelet stopped working three days before he allegedly killed two men: The Colorado prisons chief, Tom Clements and a pizza deliveryman, Nate Leon. "The reason that person was out was more of a clerical error on the part of whoever let him out," said Turner.  "So he's somebody that should not have been out of jail anyway."

Lieutenant Turnier's confident that won't happen in Riverside county, and so is the state.  The program recently received more money to expand, but not everyone's happy about it.  "I don't agree with it," said Charyl Celestine, who lives in Banning.  "I have four children, and I want it to be safe.  I think we're setting ourselves up for more crime."

Greg Lee



Others though, feel that the program works.  "If the crime isn't really bad, then let them out," said Angela Gagnon.   They're in there wasting taxpayer's money is what they're doing."

"They're making amends, they're as the term goes, paying their debt to society, and this is one way to do that," said Lt. Turnier.