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November 9, 2012

Electronic Monitoring System Will Alleviate Over-Crowding at Oswego County Jail

Legislators Margaret Kastler, right, and Milferd Potter examine a GPS tracking system and breath alcohol monitor at a recent meeting of the Oswego County Legislature's Public Safety and Emergency Services Committee. Also pictured are, clockwise, legislators Jake Mulcahey and David Holst. The Oswego County Legislature will vote Nov. 15 on an electronic monitoring system to alleviate over-crowding at the Oswego County Correctional Facility.

OSWEGO - Oswego County legislators will vote Nov. 15 on a proposal to allow the Probation Department to use a GPS tracking system and electronic bracelets to monitor criminals who are awaiting court action. If approved by the Legislature, the system can help alleviate jail overcrowding by providing around-the-clock tracking of offenders in their homes.

"In our continuing efforts to provide alternatives to incarceration for those offenders who can be safely maintained in the community, the Probation Department has been exploring the use of electronic monitoring equipment," said Deborah Meyer, County Probation Director. "Electronic ankle bracelets and similar devices provide a cost-effective alternative to incarceration for individuals who wouldn't normally be eligible for pre-trial release without an added ability to monitor them."

A variety of monitoring equipment is available, including ankle bracelets, breath alcohol tests, radio frequency monitoring, and voice verification systems.

County Legislator Linda Lockwood, chairwoman of the Legislature's Public Safety and Emergency Services Committee, said the electronic monitoring program could have a significant impact on over-crowding of the county correctional facility, which has exceeded its capacity for the past several months. When the jail is over capacity, the sheriff's department must house offenders in facilities outside of Oswego County at a cost of $90 per day.

"We've recently seen a significant decrease in the jail population, thanks to a concerted effort by the District Attorney, Sheriff and Probation Department," said Legislator Lockwood. "Although the situation has stabilized, the jail continues to be over-capacity by about 14 inmates, as opposed to 70 to 80 inmates earlier this year. It is much more cost-effective to confine an individual to their home and monitor them through an ankle bracelet or similar equipment than to transport them and pay their room and board at a facility outside of Oswego County."

The proposed contract with Sentinel Offender Services would cost the county an estimated $4 to $9 a day per offender. The probation department would initially lease 10 units and expand capacity as the need arises. The program would be funded through bail fees and existing alternatives to incarceration funds.

Probation officers would assess offenders to determine if they present a safety risk and are appropriate for pre-trial release monitoring. Ultimately it would be a judge's decision to allow the offender to participate in an electronic monitoring program.

County Sheriff Reuel Todd said the cost of boarding prisoners in facilities outside Oswego County has exceeded $1 million since the beginning of 2012.

"This is a mandated expense that my department is required to cover," said Sheriff Todd. "Every offender that is monitored electronically will save the taxpayers money. The device will track an offender's movement and immediately alert the probation department of the offender's location if they go beyond their restricted zone. The equipment has been successfully used in other areas of New York State and across the U.S."

The County Legislature has discussed ways to address overcrowding at the jail for several months. In addition to Legislator Lockwood, the Public Safety and Emergency Services Committee includes vice chairman Robert Hayes Sr., District 10; Shane Broadwell, District 17; Shawn Doyle, District 3; Daniel Farfaglia, District 24; David Holst, District 4; and Daniel LeClair, District 8.

If approved by the Legislature, the probation department will begin the new electronic monitoring program in 2013.

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