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Sheriff King will ask judges to allow ankle bracelet alternative to jail

ROLLA, Mo. (Dec. 3, 2010) — The eight judges of the 25th Judicial Circuit will decide this afternoon whether to support a proposal by Pulaski County Sheriff J.B. King to use ankle bracelet monitoring as a way to cut costs by keeping fewer inmates in the county jail.

At a morning budget meeting between Presiding Judge Mary Sheffield, Circuit Judge Tracy Storie, and representatives of the Phelps, Pulaski, and Texas county commissions, Phelps County Presiding Commissioner Randy Verkamp asked Juvenile Officer Russ Sheldon, who was attending from Pulaski County, about his experiences with a similar program in juvenile court and said the ankle bracelet monitoring company has come to his county as well.

“Russ, your success with the ankle bracelets has been high, I understand,” Verkamp said.

Sheldon agreed that the program works well.

“We’re actually doing it in adult court for a case in Pulaski County… (the company personnel) do the monitoring and notify us of any violations,” Sheldon said.

Sheldon said the juvenile office charges $10 per day and makes $2 per day per ankle bracelet after paying $8 to the monitoring company.

Sheffield said she’d like to learn more about King’s proposal.

“He was looking at, instead of putting people in jail, to put ankle bracelets on them. That obviously restricts them,” Sheffield said. “I said, ‘Well, that’s still $8 a day.’ Normally we would make them pay but sometimes that doesn’t work either because the whole idea is it’s either jail or an ankle bracelet. His premise was, ‘Well, $8 a day is cheaper than $35 or whatever it is that you pay.’”

Sheffield said King asked the judges for their views before expanding ankle bracelet usage from juvenile to adult offenders.

“He wanted to know if the judges would consider that because he said he doesn’t want to go through and try to do the program and then find out you guys won’t utilize that,” Sheffield said. “It may take us a little time to think about it because that is something relatively new.”

The commissioners present at the meeting, many of whom are currently facing large and growing jail bills, said using ankle bracelets may be good for people accused of writing bad checks, failure to pay child support or other nonviolent offenses.

“We want to keep them from costing society as much as possible. They should buy their own food, find their own place to sleep,” said Phelps County Associate Commissioner Bud Dean.

“And hopefully find a job so they can make good on the bad check!” Verkamp added.

Sheffield said she still has concerns, especially with people involved in drug offenses who may continue to be involved in criminal activity if allowed back into the community even without leaving their homes or places of employment.

“It has some possibilities; I guess I am still trying to assimilate it,” Sheffield said. “It’s not always that they’re leaving, it can be the people coming to their house.”

Dean said the root of the problem is that state legislators are refusing to build prisons and forcing the counties to pay for felony-level inmates in county jails.

“If they want to be ‘tough on crime,’ then they ought to be willing to put their pocketbook up there,” Dean said. “When they put them in jail they ought to be willing to keep them there.”

Sheffield said she’s aware of the problem.

“I got the lecture by one of the breakfast places downtown about how everybody needed to be in jail and we needed to throw them all in,” Sheffield said. “As judges, you can’t go out there and say, ‘I don’t intend to put anybody in jail, I don’t think they should be in jail.’ That doesn’t play well.”

Sheffield said she happened to have a $100 bill with her that day.

“I threw that thing on the table and I said, ‘If we can get everybody in the community to throw $100 in, we can start people in the penitentiary as soon as we can. Everybody here at the table, come on guys, put it in,’” Sheffield said. “It was like, ‘Oh, well, we aren’t going to.’”

Texas County Associate Commissioner Linda Garrett cited a case of an ankle bracelet being used after a brief period of shock time in state prison for a first-time drunk driving offender who killed multiple people in a crash.

“The judge that did it got a lot of flak…. People just couldn’t understand,” Garrett said. “He’s been working ever since he got out, and that bracelet probably saved that kid’s life and he could start paying back to society.”

Sheffield said sentencing can sometimes be controversial.

“Sometimes we do stuff that popular opinion doesn’t always like and it comes back sometimes to haunt us but that’s part of why we have our job,” Sheffield said.

Storie agreed.

“We’re supposed to do justice, but that’s a moving target,” Storie said. “If you were the mother of those three kids, nothing short of a public hanging is justice. If you were the mother of the young man who had never been in trouble before or since he got drunk and hit the van, justice would be, ‘That was a bad boy, don’t you ever do it again,’ and turn him loose.”

Sheffield urged the commissioners present to give their input at this afternoon’s meeting, scheduled to begin about 2 p.m. in the Phelps County Courthouse.

“When J.B. King speaks this afternoon about his proposal, if you have anything to say, please feel free to jump in and say it,” Sheffield said.

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