Harris County will try using ankle monitors on some inmates as a way of reducing the jail population.
The program, approved unanimously by Commissioners Court last week, is the county’s latest stab at thinning the jail population. As of Wednesday, the county had 9,850 inmates, including 978 being held in other Texas counties or in Louisiana due to lack of space at the downtown lockups.
“Ankle monitors for certain prisoners make a lot of sense so that we don’t have to bring them into the jail and use up jail cells for them,” County Judge Ed Emmett said. “The frustrating thing is, that idea’s been around for years. Finally, we’re getting to it. It’s about time, and I’m glad we’re doing it.”
Electronic monitoring is common but rarely has been used in lieu of a jail sentence, said Caprice Cosper, the county’s director of criminal justice coordination. Last year, 883 people were monitored electronically by the county’s Supervision & Corrections, Juvenile Probation and Pretrial Services departments.
The pilot program will run until Sept. 14. County officials then will consider whether to expand it, said the sheriff’s chief administrative officer, John Dyess. Ideally, offenders would be given their monitors at court and never booked into jail, Dyess said.
Choosing who is sentenced to house arrest and fitted with a monitor will be up to the two County Court-at-Law judges and two District Court judges who signed up for the pilot program.
Interestingly, this story does not mention another pilot program from January, in which some inmates who work outside the jail were fitted with the monitors. I presume that must have gone off without any major incident, as it would seem unlikely that Commissioners Court would approve any further experimentation if it had. That program was run by the Sheriff, whereas this one is being done in the courts. Like that one, this won’t make a big dent in the inmate numbers – it’s still the same old same old that has not yet been adequately addressed – but every little bit does help. I wish them success with this test.