Reliability problems plague home detention technology

MARION COUNTY, Ind. -- With Marion County’s jail population constantly hovering just below or above the system’s capacity of 2,507 inmates, Community Corrections and its assignment of offenders or clients to home detention seems to be a feasible or more economical alternative to incarceration.

If the system works.

Too many offenders say it doesn’t and, in limited cases, the contractor in charge of keeping everyone on home detention honest agrees.

“We’ve learned there have been shorts and things,” said Brian Barton, Executive Director of Track Group Correctional Solutions of Indiana, the private firm paid $3.15 per day per client to monitor the comings and goings of more than three thousand offenders assigned to Community Corrections. “I think what I’m disappointed in is the clients and the end use of it. We’re giving them a very expensive piece of technology that most of them don’t want and they abuse it and they’re coming back and we’re having to give them new ones and they destroy them and it’s frustrating.”

Several offenders serving sentences or awaiting trial and assigned to home detention monitoring have contacted Fox 59 News over the past three months to complain their GPS units malfunctioned and put them in danger of re-incarceration because a technical glitch of the device called The Shadow.

“The first day I got it on September 1 they sent me out of there without a charger,” said a client wrapping up a 28-day home detention sentence for his role in a fight with another man over a woman. “My case worker’s calling up on the phone saying my device is dead, where am I at? I’m like, ‘I’m at home.’ I didn’t know nothing about this, I’ve never been on it. I didn’t know I was supposed to have a charger or none of this stuff. They send me out of there without a charger.”

If the client, who wanted his identity protected so as not to alarm co-workers about his conviction, had received a charger, it may not have worked.

“She said something was wrong with my device,” said the client after he returned to speak with a technician at Track Group’s downtown Indianapolis office. “She gave me a new device and a new charger.

“I’m letting it charge for a whole hour and I’m taking it off the charger and it’s still dead.

“Literally when I was in there that Saturday when I went, there was five other guys with the same Shadow device…and we all had the same exact problems. Our devices wouldn’t stay charged, and this was going dead and we couldn’t charge them, they wouldn’t stay charged up. They act like they charged and once you take the charger off, they go dead.”

Nakiea Theus had the same complaint before she was jailed for violating home detention during a kidney dialysis treatment when she could not reach her case manager.

“I did it for ten months with no problem until they switched to the new system,” said Theus, recalling the introduction of the Shadow GPS unit in June, “but when they switched it to this new system, it don’t charge like it’s supposed to.”

Barton said after watching a story about Theus’ case on Fox 59 News, a technician showed the woman serving a sentence for criminal recklessness the proper way to charge the device.

“It’s a learning situation first of all, they’ve got to listen and learn,” said Barton. “It requires you to charge the product. You have to interact with it, and I think one of the biggest things we’re seeing is they’re treating the device like treating a cell phone, where you and I use our cell phones a lot and we stick it over here for ten minutes to get a little extra juice to get us through the day, we see a lot of that. We get battery reports and they’re told, ‘Charge it two hours a day,’ and what we’re seeing is minutes here, minutes here, minutes here. They’re told not to sleep with it yet they sleep with it and break the connection off it.”

Barton said clients will be issued new detachable cords that will power up the units more quickly.

There will also be what he called “firmware” updates and improvements to written instructions given to offenders.

“One of the favorite excuses of all time in the court system is, ‘The equipment doesn’t work.’” Barton said. “If I had a dollar every time I ever heard that I would be in the Caribbean right now, but the equipment just doesn’t stop working and start again.”

The client who successfully completed his home detention sentence last week said he feared technical issues could have led to re-incarceration, which would have started the domino effect of losing his job and apartment despite his best attempts to follow the rules.

“It’s easier to blame me because I’ve already been convicted of something.”

Wednesday afternoon, the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee of the City County Council will consider a $1.7 million budget appropriation to cover the expense of electronic monitoring services and equipment along with expanded staff and operating costs due to the increased number of offenders diverted to Community Corrections.