- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 3, 2002

Corrections officials in Maryland say electronic anklets and bracelets that monitor prisoners sentenced to home detention are useless if officers don't screen offenders properly or keep a close eye on them.

On any given day about 400 state prisoners are in a home-detention program for a wide variety of offenses, according to the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Three such offenders all with extensive criminal records have been accused in three separate killings during the past year after cutting the electronic anklets that were monitoring their activities, state officials confirmed this week.

The state prison total doesn't include the number of offenders monitored through county programs. Prince George's County, for example, monitors 136 offenders on home detention, and Montgomery County monitors 38.

Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Director Leonard Sipes said his department is closing in on logging 25,000 adult prisoners released on home detention since the program began in 1991. He said 25 percent do not complete the program, 4 percent have been "walk offs," who flee supervision, and about 1 percent have been arrested while on home detention.

In most home-detention cases, a waterproof, weatherproof, pager-sized device is attached to an offender, either on the wrist or the ankle. Another device is attached to the offenders' telephones and can transmit whether offenders have left their homes. That includes a "sobrietor," which can determine whether offenders have been drinking.

Case workers also make random phone calls to check on the whereabouts of the offenders.

Montgomery County Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Director Arthur Wallenstein said the electronic devices are only an "adjunct" to the effectiveness of correctional officers.

"No electronic device will ever replace quality prisoner classification and selection," Mr. Wallenstein said. "Electronic supervision has been around for over 30 years, and no matter what type of device, no matter how sophisticated, not one of them replaces the quality of the work done by correctional employees in reviewing backgrounds and making predictions of risk prior to selection."

Marsha Engel, who runs the monitoring program for Montgomery County, said screening is based on psychological tests, background, legal history, family, education and personal interviews with offenders. The average term served by those on home detention is 75 days.

"We screen them carefully so we know what we're dealing with," Mrs. Engel said. She said 35 percent to 40 percent of people in the program are driving-while-intoxicated offenders.

The county program takes pedophiles and people convicted of assaults but doesn't take flight risks or those convicted of stranger-to-stranger rapes.

"There are criteria," Mrs. Engel said. "We're not taking any sort of criminal that would put the community at risk just by their presence."

Mrs. Engel said that in the eight years she has been running the program no offenders on home detention have been charged with leaving their homes and committing crimes.

In Prince George's County, which began using electronic monitoring in 1986, a total of 97 persons wear electronic bracelets and 39 wear "cloaked pagers" to which they must respond by telephone within 10 minutes of being sent a random signal.

Stephan Simmons, who runs the county's corrections department home-detention program, said the county has almost 90 percent compliance with restriction on drinking, drug-taking, or wandering from home.

Mr. Simmons remembers when he was notified that one of his prisoners on home detention had been charged with sexual assault. Records showed the man never left his home. The riddle was solved when Mr. Simmons discovered that the offender assaulted the victim in his home.

"He never left his home, but he was in violation," Mr. Simmons said.

He said the incident underscores the need to have people checking on offenders rather than just turning them loose in the community with only a pager to track their movements.

"We're asking people who are lawbreakers to abide by the honor system," Mr. Simmons said.

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