Valdosta Daily Times

January 29, 2013

Pre-trial release program a success

GPS anklet system saves county $1.4 million

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The Southern Judicial Circuit’s Pretrial Release Program has saved Lowndes County more than $1.4 million since it began Jan. 30, 2012.

 The program, which allows felony offenders waiting to move through the court system to be released from jail with a GPS tracking anklet, costs county taxpayers $7 per day—an average of five to six times less than it costs to keep them incarcerated in the Lowndes County Jail.

The program was initially established for a six-month trial period, during which time cost savings were immediate, and the Board of Commissioners renewed the program for a full budget year, according to Commissioner Joyce Evans.

The target population for the program includes felony offenders on probation for pending charges, with a majority of the offenders charged with drug offenses and property crimes who are not eligible for bond.

A limited number of the offenders ordered into the program have been charged with other offenses including aggravated assault, battery, armed robbery and child molestation.

A total of 107 offenders have been released to date, and each case is screened by Southern Circuit Probation Officer Steve Ulm before he recommends offenders to the court. Once they are released with the ankle bracelet tracking device, the location of the offenders is monitored 24 hours a day.

The anklets acquire a GPS signal every minute, and this information is transmitted every 10 minutes to the home monitoring company Veritracks. Ulm receives alerts throughout the day for a variety of activities including leaving and returning to the residence, entering exclusion zones, bracelet strap violations and shielding or jamming violations, he stated.

The unit has to be charged for 30 minutes twice a day, but it does not have to be plugged into a land line, Ulm stated. The system relies on 30 satellites in orbit around the globe.

With the tracking anklets in place and working properly, offenders are placed on a pre-trial release track bond that includes conditions that must be monitored. The arrangement is similar to being placed on probation prior to charges being disposed, Ulm stated.

Offenders who benefit most from this program include those with medical conditions or disabilities like HIV, dialysis needs or pregnancy; who were employed prior to arrest and can return to work if released; who were enrolled in school; who are addictive personalities who can be placed in appropriate treatment if released; and who suffer from mental health issues who can also be placed in treatment, according to Ulm.

The program began after a group of concerned citizens, led by Louis Gordon, approached Evans about the length of time first-time, non-violent offenders were spending in jail while waiting to move through the court system, and made suggestions about how to solve it.

In reaction, Evans and Commissioner Richard Raines began work on the concept of an anklet monitoring system. Commissioners secured the funding, and the courts and the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office worked out program details.

“As with all county services, the pre-trial release program will be continuously monitored for efficiency,” Chairman Bill Slaughter said. “As funding will allow and at the request of the Sheriff and court system, the program may be expanded in the future.”

This expansion would include more offenders released with the GPS tracking devices. Raines called the program one of his proudest achievements during his time in office.

“Non-violent offenders are being given an opportunity to make the best out of what might have been an initial poor decision, while the financial interests of the taxpayers of Lowndes County are being managed more efficiently,” Raines said. “The pre-trial release program is a win-win for everyone involved.”

Evans thanked Gordon and the group of citizens who came forward to initiate the program, and called it “a successful solution to a challenge facing not only Lowndes County, but governments across the state as well.”

“I am proud of this program; it has not only met, but exceeded everyone’s expectations,” Evans said.