Washington County law enforcement agencies got a favorable response on June 9 to their request for funding to expand electronic monitoring of people awaiting trial.
During a work session of the county Board of Commissioners, officials from the Washington County Sheriff's Office and the Community Corrections Department asked for up to $143,000 to set up the program.
For the sheriff’s office, which runs the Washington County Jail, part of the motivation for the request is that it would allow the release of up to 100 pre-trial defendants — those who are unable to make bail before their cases go to trial — into the community so as to avoid overcrowding in the jail and the potential forced release of more dangerous inmates.
Those let out under forced release go unmonitored, while those in an official pre-trial release program would be electronically monitored.
Noting that so far this year the WCSO has released 99 individuals due to lack of room in the jail, Lt. Matthew Frohnert said the key issue is to “make every bed count.” Forced release, he said, is inefficient, costly and results in skipped court dates.
“That leads to the arresting officer having to chase after the person, the (district attorney) and the defense attorney having to prepare for someone who doesn’t show up, and the judge clearing time on his calendar,” Frohnert said.
Plus, once someone misses court, they know they’re wanted and that becomes a public safety issue, Frohnert noted.
Currently, without monitoring, someone might be out on bail facing a Measure 11 offense — a crime requiring a mandatory minimum sentence in Oregon — “and there’s no safety net,” Frohnert said. “Monitoring allows us to keep track of them and stay engaged.”
For the Community Corrections Center — a 215-bed transition facility averaging between 2,000 and 2,100 residents per year and operating as a sort of halfway house between jail and the community — electronic monitoring is the route to allowing person-to-person offenders (those convicted of domestic violence or a sex offense) to attend work or treatment.
According to Community Corrections Director Steve Berger, the ankle bracelets are accurate to within a few feet and various levels of alerts can be programmed into them.
Active monitoring provides real-time monitoring (by Community Corrections staff or an outside company) of individuals’ movements, including immediate notification — via email, text or cell phone — of violations such as entering a bar or approaching an ex-spouse’s home.
Passive monitoring ensures information is downloaded into the system every six hours for review by corrections officials should they have a retroactive concern. Both forms of monitoring provide instant-locator capability.
“If a sex offender approaches a school, that will be flagged, and it’s all hands on deck,” Berger said. Electronic monitoring is not for offenders with a high risk and “low responsivity” with no interest in complying, he added.
The sheriff’s office has been using ankle bracelets since 2006, and Community Corrections started a pilot program for probationers and parolees in 2013. The jail is asking commissioners for $78,000 a year to monitor 100 pre-trial release defendants, with one full-time staffer overseeing the program.
In addition, Berger’s agency proposes to monitor anywhere from 10 to 20 offenders a day starting July 1 at an increased cost of $65,000 a year. The contract also provides for alcohol monitoring by testing defendants’ perspiration once every 30 minutes.
The two agencies are looking to join with the county’s Juvenile Department in a joint, five-year contract with Nebraska-based Vigilnet America LLC, which would provide monitoring services.