By Daniel Brunty
The Winston County Journal
The Winston County Youth Court has a new alternative to jailing youth offenders with the implementation of an
electronic monitoring system. The county employed the services of Adapts Electronic Monitoring out of Tupelo this past spring for this task.
The electronic monitoring system includes ankle bracelets that allow law enforcement to keep track of youth offenders. Youth Court Judge for Winston County Hugh Hathorn explained how the program came about.
“First off, we know that you cannot put a juvenile into an adult jail,” Hathorn said. “The closest detention centers that we have are in Scott County, Leflore County, or Tupelo. The cost to house the juveniles in these facilities ranges from $90 to $100 per day, per child.”
With detention centers not being in close proximity and the cost of housing juvenile offenders coming at the expense of the taxpayers of the county, an alternative that would keep cost down was sought.
“I decided to go the ankle bracelet route so we could monitor them,” Hathorn said. “The cost of this program is anywhere from about $6 to $10 a day depending on the level of observation you would like to keep the minor under. This is a lot better than $100 a day in a detention center.”
The electronic monitoring has already begun for the Youth Court, with ankle bracelets already being assigned to juvenile defenders of the county. “We probably at any particular time have six to eight juveniles wearing a bracelet.”
Hathorn gave some information regarding the bracelets. “This particular ankle bracelet is pretty sophisticated,” Hathorn said. “The deputy sheriffs install it, and then they call the company to enter all the data into their system. Then law enforcement can monitor the minors on their computers or they have tablets that were purchased with State Youth Court funds so they can have access to monitor them in their cars. The officers can also set the parameters, where if the minor goes outside their boundary an alarm will go off, or contact law enforcement.”
As local law enforcement adjust to the new technology, those who are wearing the bracelets also go through the adjusting process as well. “Of course, like you know with any kid they are going to try you,” Hathorn said. “They are going to try to figure out a way to beat it. What they came up with is that they would not keep the ankle bracelet charged. Once the battery runs down, they knew that the officers could not track them.”
This is where law enforcement adjusts to the challenges of the new technology. “If we had one that would not charge his bracelet, the sheriff would just go out and find them, bring them to the office and make them sit there for two hours until it was fully charged,” Hathorn said. “That got to be where others were doing this and the officers constantly had to track kids down. So what I did, the children who have an ankle bracelet on are on probation under Youth Court supervision. So, I started bringing them back in court and letting them know it was a violation of their probation to not charge their ankle bracelets. If they did not, they would go to detention for probation violation.”
Hathorn stated that he has already issued probation violations for a number of juveniles for this offense. With the program being in its early stages, Hathorn feels positive that in the long run, this will be an economic and social positive for Winston County.
“They are not perfect yet, but they are doing better,” Hathorn said in regards to the bracelets.
In other news, the Youth Court has 33 new cases this year, which is on pace of the 68 cases they had in 2013. The Youth Court reviews 15-20 cases each month.