Bracelet bill currently not likely cost effective for LA
While possibly electronic monitoring of transitional work program participants could reduce backsliding and even tragedy, its form envisioned in a pending Louisiana Legislature bill likely would have little or no payoff.
State Rep. Stephen Dwight has authored HB 50 for the upcoming session, which would require electronic monitoring of offenders taking advantage of the opportunity to work outside institutions from six months to four years away from sentence completion. The legislation aims to prevent such inmates from walking off the job and causing the use of resources to track them down or, worse, having them commit subsequent crimes.
Although nationally still relatively small in implementation – only an estimated two percent of all convicts participate in some kind of electronic monitoring – use of the technology has grown rapidly over the past decade. Attention to it has increased as jurisdictions look to reduce corrections cost, an exercise Louisiana has undertaken with a task force report on the subject due today.
However, HB 50 would take the strategy in an unusual direction. In almost every instance, officials elsewhere use monitoring as a substitute for imprisonment, where research indicates that, as long as it’s not treated as a cure for every situation but used with discretion for certain offenders in certain situations, it achieves better results for lower costs.
But HB 50 doesn’t do that. Louisiana’s program transfers eligible inmates to participants, most of which are sheriff’s agencies, where outside of work hours they remain incarcerated (although a few places are more like halfway houses). It’s not a work release program that allows offenders to live in a home environment, but requires confinement in a facility every night.
Thus, cost savings diminish rapidly, as monitoring’s typical use acts to substitute for imprisonment, not complementing it. Moreover, because of the way Louisiana employs it, it becomes much less useful of a deterrent to running out before a sentence’s end.
Consider that in a work release program a prisoner largely has escaped the prison environment and all the penalties associated with that life. Monitoring may force him to be at certain locations at certain times, which is inconvenient, yet also acts as a deterrent from immersing himself in bad situations that could lead to recidivism. Thus, unless he really craves the possibility of entering a harmful environment – and the process of approving someone for work release theoretically weeds out individuals probe to slippage – high costs and little benefit come with running.
By contrast, with a transitional work program having inmates return to secure facilities every night puts someone in an environment much less desirable for most and increases the attractiveness of the outside alternative within grasp. Therefore, this increases desire to escape and makes more likely an offender cutting off the tracking unit (or ditching the cell phone, as some agencies prefer to use) to defeat the entire purpose. In other, if somebody wants to run, most who will won’t see the unit doing much to stop them from doing so.
Chances are using these units in Louisiana’s program as currently conceived would provide a small deterrent effect on temptation to commit crime while out for work. The question then is whether the price tag – estimated at $5 million or more – makes it all cost effective.
Better would be making Louisiana’s program into a work release structure, which would align with the goal of shedding beds and costs, with monitoring providing supervision while spending less. HB 50 provides much more bang for the buck at that point.
This transformation in a broad sense the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Task Force exhorts when it calls for alternatives to incarceration. If followed through on the imprisoned working outside the walls, HB 50 would dovetail well with such reform. Otherwise, it promises few results at relatively great expense.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 12:15