Pima County jail launches electronic monitoring program for inmates
By Rikki Mitchell. CREATED Apr 28, 2015
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) -
With a large television monitor in front of them, members of the Pima County Sheriff's Department begin tracking an inmate. In this case, that inmate is me.
As a budget crisis looms in Pima County, the jail has adopted a new program to house less inmates and save more money. It's an electronic monitoring program, where low-level offenders wear an ankle monitor 24 hours a day instead of serving their punishment inside the jail.
9OYS was given exclusive access to test out the technology before the program launched April 20.
Inmates in the program sign a waiver and get fitted with the electronic monitor. Then, they are free to leave.
To test out the process, the sheriff's department put the monitor on me and once I leave, deputies begin tracking my movements.
Currently, low-level inmates in a work release program leave the jail during the day or week and return either at night or on weekends and the jail has no way to track those inmates or make sure they come back. It costs the county about $80 a day to house one inmate.
"These inmates that come here they get medical, dental, food, housing, clothing, it adds up," said Pima County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Chris Nanos.
He says in comparison, the total monthly cost for an electronic ankle monitor is only $11.
With the electronic monitoring program, he says those same inmates would just go home at night or on weekends saving the county thousands of dollars.
"This is definitely a cost savings," said Nanos. "It's a lot cheaper to send people home and monitor them from home than it is to have them housed in this facility."
For our purposes, I'm allowed to go back to KGUN and continue my job. KGUN is considered my "inclusion zone" or my approved location. But what happens if an inmate leaves that zone?
The monitoring center immediately tries to contact them to find out why they left that zone. If they don't respond, the sheriff's department is notified. They call officers with the fugitive investigations strike team.
The technology can track a person down to the meter. Soon, the officers track me to Udall Park.
"These are inmates that are low level offenders," said Nanos. "There is some trust there that's bestowed upon them to do the right thing and so this system works."
By low level offenders, Nanos says they committed crimes like shoplifting, fraud or credit card abuse. The county has very strict criteria and won't even consider DUI related offenses for this program.
The county is working with the court system to provide this as an alternative to jail and says they currently have the capacity to place 100 inmates in the electronic monitoring program. As of the program's launch April 20, they have two inmates in the program but are evaluating others that may fit the criteria.
"If they're at home, they're with their families, they're taking care of things they need to take care of," said Nanos. "It benefits all the way around from the inmate, to us, to the community."