A penny saved is a penny earned.
Benjamin Franklin said it, but it seems the Erie County Sheriff (or the Erie County Commissioners, take your pick) have never heard it.
According to reported jail figures, it costs the county about $65 per day to house an inmate. The electronic monitor ankle bracelets cost about $13 per day. Utilizing this 21st century technology (which, by the way, is already in place in Erie County), reflects a savings to county taxpayers of $52 per day per inmate -- more than $1,500 a month.
The use of the monitoring bracelets for non-violent offenders would do much to relieve crowded conditions in the Erie County Jail and reduce the number of inmates housed in other counties at taxpayer expense. In 2008, more than $200,000 was spent on out-of-county incarceration.
Saving $1,500 a month per inmate and freeing up jail space sounds good. So what's the problem? Why are only 15 people in this program?
According to Sheriff Terry Lyons and county commissioner Tom Ferrell, the cost to offenders of $400 a month is prohibitive to some who would be eligible for the program.
Wait a minute. What's the reason for the $400 charge?
The commissioner's explanation is the program was supposed to be self-supporting. Those who could pay could stay out of jail and potentially keep their jobs.
But the program is already supported by the savings to the jail budget. Court Services Officer Gary Lyons' $40,000 salary for supervising the program would theoretically be paid in just two months by 15 bracelet-sporting participants.
Remember, the county incurs the full costs of incarceration if the electronic monitoring is not used. The program is not in addition to regular expenses, but instead of them.
Allowing non-violent offenders to keep their jobs (thus pay taxes) and support their families (thus keeping many off public assistance) is also good for the county pocketbook.
And then, there's an ethical concern. As the program stands, the message is that if you have money, you go free; if you are poor, you go to jail. No doubt this was never the intention of the sheriff or the commissioners. But it is the unintentional result of poor planning and fuzzy math.
The monitoring program is worthwhile if its full potential is realized. And that means the man in charge has to make sure the bracelets are actually put on those for whom it is a condition of their bond. Shawn Caston slipped through without a bracelet. It can't happen again.