GPS system lets inmates live in their home, still supervised
The Aiken County detention center has a new way of keeping track of inmates, even if they're outside the confines of the jail.
Starting Jan. 1, the jail implemented electronic monitoring for some inmates, which allows an inmate to be released from the jail and live in their own home while still under the jail's supervision, according to Capt. Nick Gallam, jail administrator. It can be ordered as part of a sentence or as a condition of bond.
The program is still in its early stages, so the jail has no more than a few inmates on electronic monitoring at a time, Gallam said. Whether it's a condition of bond or a sentence, it can only be ordered by a judge.
“The magistrate sets bond and they feel this person is a flight risk. Maybe there's a possibility of danger to a victim, or they're a repeat offender – they can put him on home detention as a condition of the bond,” Gallam said. “They make bond, and then they have to enter into the program to get out. Even if they did make their bond ... they would still have to be signed up for the program and meet the conditions of the program before they can get out.”
An inmate must meet stringent conditions in order to be released on electronic monitoring. They include having to report to the jail once a week, random drug screenings, house checks and not having any alcohol, drugs or firearms in the home. Anyone living in the home must abide by the same rules, Gallam said. For example, if a defendant is living with his parents, they can't have alcohol, drugs or firearms in the home, and must sign an agreement stating that they won't.
“Their home has, essentially, become an extension of the jail,” Gallam said. “They're still in custody. We still have them on our books, we still keep track of them.”
A defendant wears a GPS unit on their ankle, which gives up-to-the-minute readings of their location to a monitoring company with which the jail contracts, according to Gallam. Each defendant has “exclusion areas” that vary from person to person, depending on a defendant's charges, schedule and needs.
“They can put them on electronic monitoring, and we can set up a schedule for them so they can go to school, they can go to work, doctor's visits, religious visits,” Gallam said. If a defendant is in jail on a criminal domestic violence charge, a perimeter can be set up around the victim's home to alert authorities if the defendant gets too close. The program will even tell law enforcement how fast a defendant is traveling if they're in a car, and alerts law enforcement if an inmate tampers with the GPS device.
The program comes at no cost to Aiken County taxpayers and is completely funded by the defendant, Gallam said. The defendant pays an initial $23 administrative fee, as well as $70 for each week of monitoring.
Gallam said there are many who benefit from the program, including the jail and the taxpayers who fund it.
“If we can get somebody out of jail, that's one less person we have to feed, clothe and have a deputy to watch,” he said.
Defendants also benefit from electronic monitoring by being able to maintain any work or family responsibilities. Gallam said that in terms of sentencing, it may be better for a defendant in some cases. For example, a DUI conviction can result in a $1,000 fine or 30 days in jail. At $70 per week, 30 days of electronic monitoring may be a better option than 30 days in jail.
Larger jails have had electronic monitoring for some time, including for higher-level or violent offenders, which Gallam said may cause concern for some people.
“If they get a bond set anyway and they make bond, they're out. So why not?” he said. “This is just another layer of security for that individual for when they get out.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.