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Convicts can skip jail, but not satellite

The commission okays tracking, via an ankle bracket and a satellite, of some criminals in lieu of jail time. The Sheriff's Office says it will save money.

By SUZANNAH GONZALES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 23, 2003


INVERNESS -- From now on, some Citrus County offenders will trade jail time for time at home. All they have to wear is a high-tech ankle bracelet and clip a small black box to a belt.

County commissioners unanimously decided Tuesday evening to approve an offender tracking system that authorities from the Citrus County Sheriff's Office say will save the county money, reduce the chance of offenders relapsing in criminal behavior, improve response by law enforcement and reduce the jail population.

Offenders will wear a device on an ankle and a device that can be clipped to a belt that is capable of satellite tracking.

Judges, prosecutors and law officers will decide which offenders participate in the program. Likely participants will be nonviolent offenders from the jail who have a local permanent address and a home telephone, which is needed for the belt device.

"They're going to be very happy to get out of jail and wear this," said Bill Reach, the Sheriff's Office director of information services.

If the ankle device gets separated from the belt device, an alarm goes off. The offender could destroy the device; but if that happens, the offender would be violating the terms of his or her release and would wind up back in jail, Reach explained in an interview before a presentation to the commission Tuesday evening.

"Yeah it can be defeated, but it's not going to happen very often," he said.

The offenders' movements will be sent to the system's server in Orlando and their footsteps will be compared with crime locations.

"We know where these people are when they're out of jail," Reach said.

The Sheriff's Office plans to put the program in place immediately. It will start with 10 people. After 90 days, there will be 50 participants.

Of the 400 beds in the Citrus County jail, 320 are occupied by Citrus County inmates. Reach said with the tracking system, there would be more empty beds that Corrections Corporation of America -- the private company that runs the jail -- could rent to federal agencies such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

CCA charges the county $49 a day for each prisoner. The tracking system initially would cost about $9 a day for each offender and would drop to $6 a day once 50 people are participating, which would save the county, sheriff's officials said. And the out-of-jail offender can go back to work and pay taxes, Reach noted.

Along with four other counties in the state, a pilot program took place in Citrus County for a year in 2001. In November, the county Public Safety Council approved using the system in Citrus and recommended that the commission approve it, Reach said.

-- Suzannah Gonzales can be reached at 860-7312 or sgonzales@sptimes.com.

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