Tracking offenders has come a long way from the days of blood hounds and knocking on doors. Ankle monitors with real-time global-positioning system technology will soon be available for use by the Grant County Community Corrections office.
Attached to an ankle with a bracelet capable of alerting staff if it’s tampered with, the GPS monitors will constantly transmit a signal informing corrections staff of an offender’s exact location.
The goal is to allow offenders a chance to continue working — earning money needed to support a family, make house payments or even to pay fines and restitution while making sure they stay out of further trouble.
A contract with Vigilnet to provide an unlimited supply of monitoring bracelets to the Grant County Community Corrections office is under review, but the staff has been trained and has 10 units available now, Community Corrections Director Todd McKinley said. The devices cost the county nothing until they are attached to an offender and put to use.
The office has tested the monitoring system on a Grant County offender using a Vigilnet unit borrowed from Harney County, which has seen success with the devices, he said.
“I was pleasantly surprised at how well they work,” McKinley said.
Vigilnet also provides continuous transdermal alcohol-monitoring devices that detect chemicals emitted from the skin of anyone who consumes alcohol. The tests take place every 30 minutes but, unlike the GPS monitors, the data must be uploaded to special equipment on a regular basis.
Offenders could have a wireless device in their home or come to the Community Corrections office, McKinley said. They simply sit down near the device for about five minutes while the data is uploaded, he said.
McKinley said some type of ankle-monitoring devices may have been used in Grant County in the past, but they weren’t as sophisticated as the current devices.
His office currently has five GPS monitors and five alcohol monitoring devices, but the contract with Vigilnet can be expanded for as many devices as are needed. As soon as the contract is approved, offenders who fit the criteria for release will be fitted with the devices.
In some cases, use of the device will allow an offender to get out of jail and return to work. In other cases, offenders who would have been released on probation can now be tracked more thoroughly.
Corrections staff can set up inclusion and exclusion zones on a digitized map so offenders who cross those boundaries trigger an alarm. The monitors can be used on juveniles as well as adults, but that will depend upon the types of sentences a judge will issue.
McKinley said he is developing policies on how to use the ankle monitors, but he expects offenders who want to use them will end up helping to pay for them. If they damage a device, they will be responsible for the replacement cost, he said.
Overall, the ankle monitoring system is expected to save money for the county and be a cost-effective method to monitor medium-risk offenders, McKinley said.