Changes and improvements in technology are helping authorities in southwest Ohio track crime suspects and convicts and freeing up scarce jail space.
The Hamilton County sheriff's office owns or leases 143 electronic monitoring units with GPS and hopes to obtain 50 more. The ankle bracelets with global positioning system allow low-level offenders to be monitored while the jail is filled with those involved with more serious offenses.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that authorities say the use of GPS monitoring enables them to track wearers in almost real time and show where they are and where they have been. Deputies can use laptops and cellphone apps to monitor, and can send voice messages to the wearers.
Police can also set up "exclusion zones" to alert them in domestic violence cases.
Authorities recently used GPS to find a man after the monitor alerted them that he was getting near his ex-girlfriend's home. Police said they tracked the monitor to where a car was, but didn't see him. Then they decided to check the trunk, and found the man hiding inside with the ankle bracelet on.
"That's how accurate the GPS technology has become," Cpl. Bryan Hale, who supervises the electronic monitoring unit operations.
Hamilton County has more than 1,200 inmates in its overcrowded jail, facing a shrinking budget and voter resistance to paying higher taxes for more jail space. So authorities are exploring alternative programs, and like the GPS alternative.
"You've got to keep space available for those who truly need it," Hale said.
The sheriff's office is also still using about 200 old ankle bracelet units that can be used with land telephone lines. The GPS units cost $2,500 to buy or $3.88 per unit a day to lease. That's considerably cheaper than the cost of housing an inmate, and also allows people to go about their lives while awaiting trial on relatively non-serious crimes. Judges who determine who should be in the electronic monitoring program praise the use of the GPS bracelets, as do jailers.
About 85 percent of those given ankle monitors complete their time without problems. Those who violate the rules can be sent to jail.
"This is not a punitive measure," said Charmaine McGuffey, who is in charge of the county jail, said of the electronic monitoring. "If you're sitting in jail, you can't go to work, you can't get medical treatment. I think it's absolutely the wave of the future."