House arrest program saves county $400,000

The Okeechobee County Board of Commissioners approved an amended interlocal agreement with St. Lucie County to provide pretrial supervision of nonviolent inmates awaiting trial.

The ankle monitor program, which allows those accused of nonviolent crimes to stay in their homes and travel to approved places (such as their workplace) while awaiting trial, saved the county about $400,000 last year, compared with what it would have cost to keep these persons in jail.

At their Sept. 5 meeting, the commissioners authorized the extension of the interlocal agreement to a one-year term ending on Sept. 30, 2020, in the amount of $120,000 to be paid in quarterly installments at the rate of $30,000 per quarter.

Last year, there were approximately 7,426 jail “bed days” saved at the rate of $70 per day and a projected savings to the county of $519,820. This also resulted in a reduction to inmate medical supervision, which also reduced medical costs for the jail.

Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs said the savings might even be more. He said the $70 per day estimated cost of housing an inmate is based on the cost of housing a healthy inmate. The cost of housing a sick inmate averages around $125 per day, he said.

According to the staff report, the Pretrial Supervision Program was established in 2007 in St. Lucie County. The program has operated for the past 12 years, with approximately 7,000 cases ordered for supervision during that time. The program was initially started strictly for “pretrial supervision,” as an alternative to jail incarceration. The program provides the court with options for supervision of defendants pending disposition of criminal cases both in county and circuit court. While the jail overcrowding was one factor that was of main concern at the time, the cost of jail medical care and treatment was becoming a major concern. Allowing specific defendants to be released under restrictive conditions to continue medical treatment or surgery, provided for savings to both the county and the jail. When they are not housed in the jail, the defendants use their own insurance or resources for medical care. Furthermore, defendants on the program keep their jobs, provide for their families and, at times, receive treatment and care for substance abuse, medical and mental health issues.

In 2018, the program included 106 supervised individuals from Okeechobee. Of those, 81 were new defendants sentenced to the program, and 25 were carryovers from 2017.

During the past year, the program conducted 245 drug tests and 558 field/residence checks.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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