News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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October 22, 2013

Depopulation efforts at jail go cell-based

Focus on nonviolent offenders to reduce use of Knox County

TERRE HAUTE — Vigo County Community Corrections this week will start using a cell phone-based in-home detention system that is aimed at reducing the number of Vigo inmates housed in the Knox County Jail.

“We are hoping this will alleviate some of our crowding conditions and allow us to bring back people from Knox County. It will save money by going this route. It is a short-term fix for what we ultimately will have to do with this jail,” said Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing.

Ewing said he thinks the county will eventually have to build a new jail. “That is inevitable,” the sheriff said.

The American Civil Liberties Union in August filed a class-action lawsuit against the county and county commissioners claiming overcrowded jail conditions. The ACLU in 2002 had reached an agreement with the county to settle a 2000 class action lawsuit, which limited the jail to 268 inmates.

An October 2012, jail inspection report from the Indiana Department of Correction listed the jail’s population at 293. The county since has been housing offenders in other county facilities, such as in Knox County, to alleviate overcrowding. Vigo County in turn has paid other counties for housing Vigo inmates.

Vigo County currently has about 100 people on in-home detention, using land line phones, said Bill Watson, director of Vigo County Community Corrections. The new cellular-based system will allow the county to initially add 40 more people to in-home detention.

“These are nonviolent offenders. It will not be people who have any crimes against a person; it is more property-crime type of people,” Ewing said.

The sheriff said he will bring back 24 remaining inmates from Knox County and would like to see at least 20 of those placed under home detention with the cell-based system.

Ewing said the jail has 268 beds as a maximum, “but I cannot have 268 beds occupied. I have to maintain at least 20 to 25 beds open for new arrivals, new detainees. Over a weekend, it is not uncommon to do that,” the sheriff said.

The Vigo County Board of Commissioners last month approved and entered into a contract with Corrisoft LLC, a Lexington, Ky.-based company that will provide the equipment. The cost is $6.50 per unit, but the county will charge $7 per unit to in-home detention users.

“For those qualified, it is cheaper to put them on this than pay $35 per day to a holding county, like Knox County,” Ewing said.

Watson said the cellular system works with an ankle bracelet that uses cellular phone towers and can track the location of a person with a global positioning system. “We can tell if they are walking, or riding a bike or are in a car,” Watson said. A web-based monitoring system will track and record the location of the bracelet.

The new system will allow more people to be placed on in-home detention, Watson said.

“Unfortunately because of economic background, many [offenders] cannot get a [landline] phone service turned on or there may be wiring issues. Also, a lot of agencies, such as Time Warner Cable and New Wave, are going to packaged digital service, where you get phone, TV and Internet, which presents another problem. You cannot connect to that” digital service with the ankle-bracelet system, Watson said.

“With a cellular device, [people on the in-home detention program] don’t have to have a working, operating telephone in their own home as a primary source,” Watson said. “They don’t have to have a phone line. A monthly [landline] phone bill is a big expense for the offender population when you are already asking them to pay for the cost of their equipment.”

A person on in-home detention will pay $70 a week in Vigo County, Watson said. Of that, $49 a week will cover the cost of the cellular-based ankle bracelet.

In addition, Watson and Ewing said people placed on the new in-home detention system will be required to work four hours a day, five days a week for the county.

“They will work for the county such as aiding the highway department picking up roadside trash, maintenance or painting curbing, or whatever,” Ewing said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard. greninger@tribstar.com.

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