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Electronic Bracelets to Be Tried on Juvenile Offenders : Adult Monitoring Program Scrapped After Jail Inmates Refused to Volunteer

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Ventura County corrections program to monitor the whereabouts of some adult criminals with electronic ankle bracelets has flopped, but will soon be tried out on juveniles, officials said Monday.

Last week, the county pulled the plug on a six-month pilot program--originally seen as a way to reduce jail overcrowding and save money--because adult offenders were not interested.

“We had only one taker in the four to five months that this program was in operation, and she didn’t last a week,” Deputy Probation Officer Tom McCarthy said.

But the juvenile program set to begin in September is expected to succeed, said Cal Remington, deputy director of the county Correction Services Agency.

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The problem with the voluntary adult program was that it did not appeal to convicts. They said it was too expensive and did not allow for reduced sentences because of good behavior.

Adults were required to pay $12 to $16 a day for the program, and “good time” of up to one-third of a County Jail inmate’s sentence was not available because the prisoner was no longer behind bars.

The adult program was available to drug and alcohol offenders who were not considered a threat to public safety.

Consequently, few people were eligible. And only one person chose to wear the bracelet: a woman inmate doing time for an alcohol-related offense, who was found drunk a week after entering the program.

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But juveniles cannot be charged for the service and are not eligible for good time anyway, so they are expected to take part, Remington said. The county expects to pay for the juvenile program through federal and state funds. Subsidies are not available for adult offenders, he said.

Which juveniles will qualify still is not clear. But they will be the least threatening of those now in juvenile hall. The bracelets will be worn by about 25 juveniles and will reflect an expansion in the current home detention program.

The program may eventually include more teen-agers to lessen the strain on the county’s overcrowded juvenile hall, which is meant to hold 84 offenders but routinely houses more than 100, Remington said.

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“The overwhelming consideration is, do we feel that this person could be on electronic monitoring without posing a threat to society?” he said.

Electronic monitoring has received a lukewarm response from Ventura County judges, some of whom feel it is too lenient. The program has been implemented in several Southern California counties, including San Diego, where it has been widely successful, McCarthy said.

“The guy won’t be able to sneak out of his house and go paint graffiti or hang with gangs with this,” McCarthy said.

The electronic transmitter is locked onto the offender’s ankle, and is worn even in the shower. It sends a constant signal to a receiver in the wearer’s home. Once the person gets out of range, the receiver sends an alarm to a computer at the probation department.

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But the bracelets sometimes fail to operate near refrigerators and household appliances, and are far from fail-safe, McCarthy said.

One concern of probation officers is that teen-agers will be more likely to try to foil the electronic surveillance--and their experiments will cost taxpayers’ money.

“I think kids are more apt to try and beat a system,” McCarthy said. “It’s on their leg and they want to get it off.”

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