Crime and Justice

Pretrial electronic monitoring program shows early success

Five months in, and a pretrial electronic monitoring program in Windham County is off the ground, and although enrollment is not as high as expected, the results seem positive.

Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark reports on the electronic monitoring system on Thursday. Photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark reports on the electronic monitoring system on Thursday. Photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark briefed lawmakers Thursday about the pilot program, which enrolls participants after they have been arraigned but before they face trial. By being under electronic monitoring, detainees are able to work and live at home, while freeing up the state’s prison beds.

The Legislature approved the pilot last year, funding it for two years with a $200,000 appropriation. At the end of the pilot, Clark hopes the program will be transferable to Vermont’s other counties.

The program is part of a general effort to reduce the state’s prison population.

Clark told members of the House Corrections and Institutions Committee that the program consists of three components: a GPS electronic monitoring bracelet, the deputies that respond to alerts from the device, and case management, which, Clark said, is the most “critical” part.

The program works with home detainees to establish a schedule for where they are supposed to be at certain times of the day, allowing them to move between home and work, for instance. The devices are accurate enough that they record how fast a participant is driving between locations.

Clark hired Dawn Hubbard, formerly a director of security at Landmark College, to manage the program full-time.

The first participant began the program in September — a woman who faced charges for driving under the influence.

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Besides equipping the woman with the device, Hubbard helped her find a local Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, switched her to a nearby pharmacist and helped her seek dental treatment for extensive oral hygiene issues.

“It was more than just us saying we’re going to track you,” Clark said. “We’re going to support you.”

Clark said the program has been well received by the local judiciary. If a participant violates the rules, which Clark reported has happened just once, the sheriff’s department takes them directly to the correctional facility where they would be awaiting trial were they not on the program.

“It’s a risk to public safety if he’s not doing what we’re asking them to do,” he said.

The program has worked with individuals for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the timing of judicial proceedings, and enrollees range in age from mid-20s to late-40s.

Clark’s goal is that the program will be supervising between 12 and 15 detainees a day. At the moment, they are overseeing about half that many.

One important factor for success, Clark said, is enrolling detainees before they have spent much time in prison.

“We’re catching them before they really become soured on the criminal justice system,” he said.

Clark ran into some problems with the vendor he initially selected for the electronic monitoring, which used an AT&T network. That proved to be less reliable in some areas, so he also started using Verizon in other areas.

The Department of Corrections runs a similar electronic monitoring program, which tends toward more passive monitoring of home detainees than the Windham County pilot program.

“It’s not the bracelet or the monitors so much as the intrapersonal support that is needed,” Clark said.

As the pilot moves forward with the goal of establishing similar programs in other parts of Vermont, Clark emphasized the need for community involvement. Part of the success, he said, stems from support from employers and community groups — and that can vary between Windham County and Burlington.

“The only way this program is going to be successful, it has to be community managed,” Clark said.

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