The Associated Press published a report this week that found, "electronic ankle bracelets used to track an offender's whereabouts have proliferated so much that officials are struggling to handle an avalanche of monitoring alerts that are often nothing more sinister than a dead battery, lost satellite contact or someone arriving home late from work."
According to AP and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, on any given day in the Lone Star State, officials are alerted to as many as 900 ankle monitor violations. There are only 230 parole officers to check up on that large number of alerts.
While AP found that some law enforcement officials across the nation are overwhelmed with the number of alerts, false alarms, and even the possibility of rising crime from these supposed monitored convicted criminals, Newschannel 6 Anchor Brittany Glas this was not the case in Wichita County.
Newschannel 6 filed an open records request with Wichita County and learned there are only 10 adults in the county currently fitted with GPS ankle monitors. The past 12 months, four new people have been ordered to wear the electronic monitoring devices.
The 10 people with ankle monitors were required to wear them by order of a judge. None of these people were ordered to wear them through the direction of Wichita County Adult Probation.
The department has however, ordered several people in Wichita County to wear similar devices to track alcohol consumption, not GPS.
David Johnson, the director of Wichita County Adult Probation, said that's because it's too expensive. Texas gives the department about 50 percent of what it costs to operate. The remainder of the costs must be generated from the offender.
"The state doesn't provide us enough money to do all of this type of testing… Personnel is really the number one issue we're most focused on [in order to make] case loads that are manageable," said Johnson.
Newschannel 6 learned it's the opposite case for Wichita County Juvenile Probation.
As of July 2013, 19 juvenile probationers are monitored with the ankle bracelets. Officer Kirk Wolfe, chief juvenile probation officer, said electronic monitoring is worth the price. In fact, each year, the department budgets $50,000 to electronic monitoring through third-party company, B.I. That total comes to a daily cost of less than $8.
Officer Wolfe said electronic monitoring can actually save taxpayers money by allowing offenders to work to pay back restitution. He said it's a better option versus being shipped off to some sort of jail and/or juvenile center, i.e. the price Texomans pay to house offenders in various probationary facilities.
Dallas-based company, Recovery Healthcare Corporation, supplies electronic monitoring devices to adults in Wichita County. Newschannel 6 reached out to the company's president who told us the corporation tracks their enlisted offenders every minute of the day. Then, as soon as an offender triggers an alert, their satellite position is pinged every 15 seconds.
Larry Vanderwoude said, "Our operation is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If we get an alert, we automatically go to that particular offender and try to manage that alert… but [the process] depends on the contract with the county."
To-date, Recovery Healthcare Corporation monitors more than 800 people across Texas and Oklahoma, which equates to a ratio of one employee to every 50 people being monitored.
Law enforcement officials across Texoma agree: the issue boils down to manpower and supervision.
"They're a tool for supervision, but they're not a substitute for supervision. If you have the dollars to not only use the device, but to track the device and to do something with that tool, it works great… but it costs money to do it," said Johnson.
"It's our experience here, with the company we use; the product does what it says it's going to do. It's up to the probation department to follow up, to monitor it, to look at it, to get the notices… For some departments, they may not want to know," explained Wolfe.
Newschannel 6 spoke with 89th District Court Judge Mark Price over the phone. He said if there's a proven problem or a real danger to an individual, sometimes it's best to leave offenders in jail, rather than issue the monitoring devices.
Click here to read the AP article in its entirety.
6 On Your Side will take a look at different issues impacting the Texoma community each Thursday night. If you have something you would like Brittany to look into, send an email to email@example.com.