The Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office's electronic monitoring program, designed to keep defendants out of jail but under control before trial, faced scrutiny by the New Orleans City Council's Criminal Justice Committee last week. Sheriff Marlin Gusman told councilmembers that the program, launched in 2010, has been used by more than 400 defendants. (See "Monitoring the situation," June 6, 2012.)
The meeting began days after an NOPD 6th District Task Force arrested a juvenile for violating his house arrest following an armed robbery charge. He was found with a "tampered" ankle monitor, according to a June 24 report by NOLAReady, the city-sponsored community alert system.
Monitor tampering typically triggers a signal to the sheriff's office, which then moves to make an arrest. That didn't happen in the juvenile's case. Gusman said he wasn't aware of any tampering.
NOPD has arrested seven people wearing ankle monitors, four of them for violent crimes — including a May 29 case in which a 13-year-old wearing an ankle monitor allegedly shot a man on his porch.
Of the 124 people wearing bracelets today, 49 are juvenile defendants, 72 are adults awaiting trial, and three are on probation. Eighty-five percent of those wearing ankle monitors do not have geographic restrictions, including the 13-year-old. (He was "compliant" with curfew restrictions, Gusman said.)
"If we can have them anywhere in the city and that's acceptable," asked committee co-chair Susan Guidry, "why do we have them on a bracelet?"
Lisa Simpson of the Vera Institute of Justice, which works with the sheriff's office on the program, said it's a defendant's constitutional right to have minimal restrictions while awaiting trial. She added that geographic constraints are too harsh for someone who has not yet been convicted of a crime.
The bracelet monitors are used on a "first come, first served" basis, as requested by judges, Gusman told the council. Criminal Court Chief Judge Camille Buras said she adds time restrictions and monitors curfews. (Monitors that have 200-foot "exclusion" and "buffer" zones are typically used in domestic abuse cases.) The judges also determine what the "major" or "minor" infractions are for a person wearing a monitor.
Under the sheriff's contract with Omnilink, monitoring costs $14.75 a day for each juvenile state offender and $13.25 for each adult and municipal offender. The program's current budget is $600,000, but it received a 2 percent budget cut (and subsequently lost a few monitors) in the latest city budget. The cost of using monitors is considerably less than the cost of housing non-violent offenders. — ALEX WOODWARD