VALDOSTA -- Hoping to defray inmate housing costs, City Council on Thursday approved an electronic monitoring plan for nonviolent offenders processed through the city's Municipal Court.

The plan will allow offenders the opportunity to perform work release and restitution and also gives the city substantial savings over the $43 per inmate, per day cost to house inmates in the Lowndes County Jail.

City Manager Larry Hanson said that the electronic monitoring program would save the city $36.50 per person for each day of a jail sentence. Exact savings to the city will depend on how many offenders are placed in the program, and that will be determined by the number of acceptable cases brought before Municipal Court Judge John Edwards. Hanson said he guessed the city could save $50,000 to $100,000 annually.

At an earlier Council meeting, Edwards praised the flexibility of the system, which involves attaching an electronic device to an offender's ankle. The monitoring company uses the device to track the offender's movements, allowing Edwards to place the person on total house arrest, or to modify the arrangement, allowing the person to work, go grocery shopping or pick children up from school, but still adhere to a court-mandated curfew.

Violations of probation rules are recorded by the monitoring agency and can result in revocation of probation and a return to jail.

Only nonviolent offenses are eligible for electronic monitoring, and those with violent criminal histories are also disqualified. Those serving time for sex crimes are similarly ineligible for home confinement.

Edwards told the Council that many people sentenced to jail terms were placed there for failure to pay fines and costs. Under the new plan, offenders could retain jobs to pay off those fines rather than facing increasingly long jail terms.

Offenders who are capable will pay for the electronic services, just as they would currently pay probation costs. For those determined to be either indigent in the eyes of the law, physically unable to work or assigned to total house arrest, the city will absorb the $6.50 per day fee.

Hanson said the agreement is an excellent deal for taxpayers because it shifts cost responsibility from the city to the offender, and offers alternatives to incarceration.

Sentinel Offender Services was awarded the contract. The group provides probation services to the city under a separate contract and handles a similar contract with the state of Georgia for State Court in Lowndes County.

To contact reporter Bill Roberts, please call 244-3400, ext. 245.

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