Deschutes County expanding electronic monitoring

Devices used in lieu of jail can track drinking or unauthorized travel

By Scott Hammers / The Bulletin

Published Jun 20, 2014 at 12:01AM

Deschutes County has been rapidly ramping up its use of electronic monitoring for suspects awaiting trial, expanding the program by roughly 250 percent over the past two years.

Deborah Saia, who oversees the program for Deschutes County Community Justice, said local judges have embraced the use of electronic anklets that can determine whether the wearer has been drinking, and similar devices that can track the wearer’s movements, as an alternative to the more costly option of keeping offenders in jail.

Saia said alcohol monitoring makes up the vast majority of the county’s efforts; of the 120 people being monitored by the office last week, 91 were on an alcohol monitor. Most individuals issued an alcohol monitoring device are previously convicted DUII offenders, she said.

Most of the remaining suspects wearing GPS-enabled monitors to track their movements have been accused of domestic violence or other forms of assault, Saia said, and are monitored to ensure they comply with restraining orders and stay away from alleged victims or witnesses.

Saia said the expanded use of electronic monitoring traces back a few years, to a meeting among county judges, herself, Community Justice Director Ken Hales and a representative of Vigilnet, the company that manufactures the monitoring devices. As judges have become more familiar with the technology, Saia said, they are more likely to place suspects on monitoring as a condition for their release.

Alta Brady, presiding judge on the Deschutes County Circuit Court, said there are many people who appear in court who may not be a danger to the community as long as they’re not drinking. The alcohol monitor, which takes a reading of the wearer’s perspiration every 30 minutes and transmits the data to the county once a day via a phone line, is an inexpensive way of keeping such people in compliance with their release, Brady said.

“We don’t want to hold people in jail that have been accused of a crime, simply because we have no other tool to ensure the safety of the community,” she said.

Brady said many of the people who appear in her courtroom recognize the problems caused by their drinking and eventually come to appreciate being put on electronic monitoring.

“I have had people report to me, people with serious alcohol problems, that they were grateful for that alcohol monitor because that was the incentive for them to stop abusing alcohol,” she said.

Saia said 87 percent of Deschutes County offenders placed on electronic alcohol monitoring successfully refrain from drinking while wearing the device.

Individuals placed on electronic monitoring as an alternative to spending time in jail are charged $12 a day, in addition to a $35 setup fee, Saia said. People put on monitoring as a legal sanction as opposed to an alternative to jail, such as sex offenders, are not charged, she said.

Brady said electronic monitoring is now being used in nearly every case where it is practical, and she doesn’t expect it to expand further in Deschutes County any time soon.

— Reporter: 541-383-0387, shammers@bendbulletin.com