Kane County leaders working to bring back electronic home monitoring
After a nearly two-year hiatus, Kane County officials plan to bring back their electronic home monitoring program for sentenced offenders and hope to expand it in 2020 to people awaiting trial.
The monitoring program was discontinued at the end of 2017 because of budget concerns. Sheriff Ron Hain is spearheading a new test program he hopes will go "100 percent live" by late September and produce an estimated savings of $950,000 a year compared to the former program.
The new program features two major changes: Participants must enroll in a diversion or job placement program offered through the jail, and armed sheriff's deputies will respond to violations. Previously, probation officers without arresting powers would respond with local police providing backup.
"If we choose to just incarcerate then provide them with no other options before they return to the streets, we just create more victims, we create more crime, more recidivism," Hain said. "That's why it's so important with my model of EHM, to have them go through a diversion and job support program for 24 to 48 hours before they are released. So we're confirming we're going to send this person back into the community with a support structure."
Shift in culture
Reinstating electronic home monitoring as an option for nonviolent offenders facing mandatory jail time is part of a culture shift from punitive incarceration. Years ago, when the current Kane County jail was built near St. Charles, officials worried it would be too small and would lack enough beds for inmates. Now, law enforcement leaders want to keep people from returning to the jail by offering diversion and job placement programs and converting unused or underused space at the jail into inpatient drug treatment centers.
Kane County Public Defender Kelli Childress called the plan a "step in the right direction."
"We're always in favor of any program that's an alternative to incarceration," Childress said. "Adding the EHM program is one piece of a bigger puzzle. There's a lot of national discussion now about how we treat offenders in this country. Our communities are safer when we respect and rehabilitate people. Sheriff Hain in very progressive in this respect."
An inpatient drug treatment center at the jail is still years away. However, Hain said, freeing up space through electronic home monitoring will allow another jail pod to be used for counseling, job training or other services.
At issue is the need to strike a better balance with jail terms for traffic offenses and other nonviolent crimes that can cause an offender to lose a job, which can then compound into an eviction or foreclosure and have longer term effects on society as a whole.
"Electronic home monitoring fills an important gap in the criminal justice system that has allowed us to hold somebody accountable but not devastate their life. It allows them to maintain employment, it allows them to maintain housing, it allows them to fulfill their obligation to the criminal justice system if they are found guilty," said Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon. "(For) people who are low-level, nonviolent, first-time - even second-time offenders - our society is better served by devoting resources to them for job training, for education, for counseling to get them out of the system and keep them out of the system."
Not for everyone
Hain said he will work with McMahon's office to determine who is eligible for electronic home monitoring, which generally allows a sentenced offender nine hours outside his or her house - eight hours for work and 30 minutes of travel each way to work.
The sheriff's office will fit an offender with a monitor and place another device in his or her home that will send an alert if a person cuts it off or doesn't return home on time.
Hain said he is in the process of leasing equipment that will cost $2.75 per day. Comparatively, it costs $62 a day to clothe, feed and house an inmate at the jail.
An average of 50 people can be put on electronic home monitoring per day, Hain said, but his office must hire seven deputies for a new court services unit. The end result is a possible cost savings of $950,000 a year compared to having the county's probation department oversee the program.
Gang members, violent offenders, sex offenders and domestic abusers will not be allowed to participate in electronic monitoring. It generally will be offered for nonviolent crimes such as retail theft, driving offenses, property damage and drug charges.
Liam Dixon, a defense attorney in Aurora for about 25 years, said he is looking forward to when electronic home monitoring will be available for those awaiting trial.
Dixon pointed to a client who is being held at the jail on a first-time drug charge and likely will get fired from his job because he will miss a training class. Meanwhile, Dixon said, prosecutors offered probation in exchange for a guilty plea.
"Had EHM been available, he would have been the perfect candidate for it," Dixon said. "For nonviolent offenders, it's completely appropriate. It's another option - it benefits all parties."