County budget trims, but saves, 'outmate' home jail program
HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -- Cynthia Lester's ankle monitor may not make much of a fashion statement. But it beats her other choice.
"I'd rather be on it, than locked up," she says. "Because my situation with me got to pay child support, I got like five different cases I got to pay for."
"Does the program save us money," Hamilton County Corrections Director Barbara Payne asks. "Yes, absolutely."
An "out-mate" on electronic monitoring, or home incarceration, costs Hamilton County $12.49 a day, compared to $44 daily for the county workhouse and $59 a day for a jail cell.
Moreover, participants have to pay to play; $15 daily for accused or convicted felons, $45 daily for misdemeanants.
Five Community Corrections program employees are among the 38 workers cut in Hamilton County's new budget. The two full time and three part-time positions will save $133,000, Payne says, less than one percent of total savings that the new spending plan hopes to realize.
"We still can operate the electronic monitoring program without them," Payne tells Eyewitness News. "We still have the host computer, which has been doing the monitoring all along."
The greatest potential for loss, she concedes, is not in oversight but in the timeliness of that oversight.
"Once we get a violation, we make sure we've got our ducks in a row," Corrections supervisor Chris Jackson says. "We then notify the court."
"You have to have a warrant issued before you can make any kind of arrest," Payne explains.
Which means, if the violation occurs overnight, outside of the courts' regular business hours, an offender gets a head start in his/her flight from justice.
Case in point; convicted robber Jesse Mathews, accused of killing Chattanooga Police Sgt. Tim Chapin April 2, in a shootout following the failed holdup of a pawn shop.
Mathews had been sentenced to twenty years for a series of robberies in Colorado, but had been transferred to a work-release program prior to his first eligibility for parole.
He failed to return to his assigned halfway house in February.
While previewing the budget Wednesday, several County Commissioners cited the Mathews-Chapin case as a reason to phase-out, or de-emphasize electronic monitoring, and other alternative forms of sentencing, despite their relatively lower costs.
Thursday, Hamilton County had 81 felons and 98 misdemeanor offenders on home incarceration; ankle bracelet electronic monitoring.
Cynthia Lester served the first 45 days of her 180-day sentence in jail.
"It (electronic monitoring) is good for me," she says. "To get out and try to find a job. Instead of being in jail, wasting time."