Photo: TheGiantVermin (flickr)
Vigo County is using new ankle monitors linked to cell phone towers to transfer more inmates out of its jail and into in-home detention programs.
The county has been under legal pressure to reduce its jail population. Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union sued Vigo County, saying it was exceeding a jail population limit of 268 inmates it agreed to in 2002.
In response to the suit, the county transferred some of its inmates to another county.
Vigo County Community Corrections Director Bill Watson says by using an electronic device that attaches to offenders’ ankles and transfers data to cell phone towers, county officials can keep track of inmates in their homes.
The county had previously used devices that connected wirelessly to offenders’ land-line telephones — a technology a decreasing number of offenders have in their homes.
Watson says the ACLU suit made the county look at alternatives sooner than it might have otherwise.
“The reality is we can’t put everyone in jail and prison,” he says. “There just isn’t room, so we have to be smart about where we put people based on the capacity we have. And I think that’s what makes community based programs a good alternative on the local and state levels because of the cost factor.”
Vigo County officials estimate about 25 inmates will initially be approved for in-home detention, but they hope to quickly expand the program. The inmates that are eligible would be low-level offenders such as those cited for alcohol or minor drug offenses.
ACLU Legal Director Ken Falk says he is pleased with the county’s efforts, but the latest move is only a short-term fix.
“The county has to decide what the permanent solution is,” he says. “Is this a solution where they need to build more beds or is this a situation where they can divert people away from the jail. I’m hoping it’s the latter because I think that’s a responsible way of dealing with the problem.”
Both Watson and the county sheriff have said they expect a bigger jail will eventually have to be built.