Western Tidewater Regional Jail uses home monitoring as alternative to jail

Published 2:33 pm Wednesday, February 17, 2016

By Diana McFarland

News editor

While someone may get sentenced to jail, they don’t necessarily have to do the time behind bars.

Western Tidewater Regional Jail offers an alternative for those convicted of non-violent misdemeanors — the home electronic monitoring program.

The program is designed for individuals either pre- or post-trial, with sentences of 12 months or less. The average individual in the program is facing a three to 12-month sentence, said Lt. Michael Whalen with WTRJ. 

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Typical offenses include traffic violations, DUIs, reckless driving and child support, he said. Currently, there are 22 individuals in the GPS-based program. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The home electronic monitoring program allows productive, contributing and taxpaying individuals to continue going to school or remain employed while serving time, said Col. William C. Smith, superintendent for the WTRJ.

The program is used mostly after sentencing has been imposed and includes an ankle monitoring device that is tied into a GPS-based system at the jail. Each individual is monitored by jail personnel via computer, and the device is accurate within 10 feet.

Individuals are given zones in which they can move freely, but if they venture beyond those boundaries — and that includes routes to and from work and school — an alarm goes off. At the same time, jail personnel are notified by text message, email and telephone that the individual has strayed beyond his or her allowable zone.

The individual is also sternly admonished by the monitor with a message such as, “Call your officer, now!”

The zone does not include the grocery store or gas station — the only exceptions are attorney appointments, court appearances and doctor appointments that are approved, said Smith.  

“Every minute you leave your house you’re being tracked by six to eight towers,” Whelan said, adding that the device can also determine how fast an individual is driving and how long he or she has lingered in one area.

“You may be in the luxury of your own home but your freedom is still very, very restricted,” Smith said.

The program pays for itself, and individuals are charged a $100 set-up fee and $20 a day. On the flip side, it costs $55 a day to keep someone in jail. While inmates are charged $3 a day, not everyone has the money to pay that amount, Smith said.

Individuals in the monitoring program must also undergo random drug and alcohol screenings and must pay for those services. Individuals must also be available by cell phone at all times and employers are notified that an employee is being monitored.

Those who are in the program pre-trial are given a refund if found not guilty.

Since 2013, there have been 264 individuals in the electronic monitoring program, and 14 have returned to jail for violating the program’s parameters. Of those, two were sent back to jail for non-payment, five for failing a drug or alcohol test and two for violating curfew, Whalen said.

Most of those that failed were pre-trial, as most post-sentencing individuals complete the program successfully, he said.

Other programs at Western Tidewater Regional Jail include work release and an in-house work program.

The work release program helps inmates get a job while serving time, and employers like it because there’s less absenteeism, Smith said.

Typical jobs include manufacturing, food service, mechanics, warehouse and assembly line work, Smith said.

Those programs are often used by prisoners nearing the end of a penitentiary sentence as a way to ease them back into society, Smith said.

All of the programs are geared to keep people from returning to jail, and so far, an informal survey among previous inmates is that 80 percent keep their work release job after getting out of jail, Smith said.

Smith said that with all the alternate programs available for individuals serving jail time, it falls on the individual to follow through.

“If you fail, it’s not because someone didn’t try to help you,” he said.  {/mprestriction}