Monday, April 12, 2010

Chicago Criminal lawyer thinks Electronic Home Monitoring is a solution to expensive prisons

Lately, this Chicago Criminal lawyer feels like she continues to have the same sentencing conversation with a judge and the state’s attorney. In this tight economic job market, and I’ll admit it my personal desire to not burden taxpayers unnecessarily, there should be far greater use of Electronic Home Monitoring (EHM) for non-violent offenders.

In tough money times, when budgets are tight, Cook County taxpayers are paying more to jail some non-violent offenders who could be electronically monitored.

Just two years ago, instead of locking them up, Cook County put electronic ankle bracelets on some 1,500 people to keep track of them.

"The cost of actually keeping a guy incarcerated versus out on a monitoring program -- there's a big difference in that money," jail employee Joe Ranzino said.

EM costs about $35 a day. To jail an inmate costs about a $100 a day per non-violent offender. In a year, the county had 1,500 people on EM, saving $35 million. Despite that, the EM ranks have dwindled. This week, the number is at about three hundred.

In the meantime, your tax dollars are paying to house more detainees – some who could be electronically monitored.

"They're in there on a $2,000 bond for prostitution," Sheriff Tom Dart said. "They're in there on a $500 bond for stealing a loaf of bread. That's where it gets to be puzzling."
It’s true. Sometimes the only option for a defendant is incarceration. The judge can’t change it, the prosecutor can’t change it, and frequently the accused is willing to “accept a plea” if they can avoid incarceration. Well, no one wants to be incarcerated so having a desire to avoid being locked up is nice but inadequate. What is necessary is making the right personalized sentencing decision that takes into account the unique attributes of the accused as charged.

Do you want to pay for the care, especially medical care, for a non-violent offender for a misdemeanor criminal offense? The price of incarceration is high and prosecutors may be amazed to discover that the accused frequently looks just as sad, albeit not frightened, of being confined to their home versus being incarcerated in a correction facility. It is punishment. I can’t imagine too many adults want to have to explain to family and friends that while they maybe at home, they can’t come and go as they please.

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