News and Tribune

April 15, 2014

A TALE OF TWO PROGRAMS IN CLARK COUNTY: Community Corrections director, judge raise concerns

Probation department's home incarceration program under scrutiny

By MATT KOESTERS
matt.koesters@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — The Clark County Probation Department can take weeks, and sometimes even months, to activate monitoring bracelets on accused and convicted criminals assigned to the department’s home incarceration program, or HIP.

Probation employees say they’re trying to protect the county by giving those assigned to the program time to get their finances in order, but Clark County Community Corrections Executive Director Steve Mason and Circuit Court No. 1 Judge Dan Moore call the practice a safety concern.

“If someone breaks into your house, and you’re in court and you hear the judge say, ‘You’re on home incarceration,’ in your mind, that person’s on home incarceration starting today, right?” Mason said. “How would you feel if you found out that that person was given a 90-day grace period to get on home incarceration? It lessens public confidence in the system to, in my opinion, do the right thing.”

Community corrections has its own HIP, and Moore, the president of the county’s Community Corrections Advisory Board, has called for the programs to unify under the banner of community corrections. Circuit Court No. 3 Judge Joe Weber voiced opposition to the proposal at a January corrections advisory board meeting. Weber declined to comment for this story.

It’s at a judge’s discretion to which program he or she will send an offender, if either.

The advisory board voted in June to consolidate the two programs under probation, but the plan was scrapped when it was revealed that the community corrections department would lose more than $100,000 in grant dollars from the Indiana Department of Correction.  Circuit Court Presiding Judge Vicki Carmichael was the president of the advisory board at the time the vote was taken.

PROBATION HIP

Probation Officer Dennis Sumler, to whom Home Incarceration Coordinator Bill Delehanty reports, acknowledged that the probation department’s HIP gives those assigned to the program 30 days, and sometimes longer, to activate their ankle bracelets and — in the case of post-conviction home incarceration — begin their sentences.

“They send them over to Bill, and as a general rule, most of them are coming out of jail, serving a sentence,” Sumler said, “so we’ll give them 30 days, sometimes even more, depending on their circumstances, to get their finances in place before they get hooked up.”

Sumler said the probation department’s HIP primarily deals with A-misdemeanor and D-felony offenders, and that the bulk of those assigned to probation HIP are nonviolent criminals.

“They’re not dangerous to society,” Sumler said. “It’s not critical when they get hooked up. It’s just a matter of them doing the sentence that the court ordered.”

Probation HIP costs the participant $100 in set-up fees, a $100 deposit and $10 per day. Sumler said it’s important to allow the HIP participant to get their finances in order to ensure the county recoups its costs for operating the program.

“This is a privilege for them to be on home incarceration as opposed to being in jail. It’s up to them to pay their way, because the money that’s generated from home incarceration goes into our probation user fee fund,” Sumler said. “That fund is used to supplement salaries, computers, copiers, what have you. We pay for that out of probation user fees, and that offsets money that is not spent by the county general fund.

“That basically helps the county out, because the county don’t appropriate money for us for that. We pay for it ourselves.”

Sumler told the News and Tribune that Delehanty’s salary is paid out of probation user fees, but the auditor’s office told the News and Tribune that his salary, which totals $52,691 with retirement and insurance included, is paid out of the county’s adjusted gross income tax revenue.

The News and Tribune requested a roster of probation HIP participants from the probation department, but the department denied the request on the grounds that there are drug court participants included on the roster. The News and Tribune was able to acquire the list through a public records request to the Clark County Commissioners.

The list, which is handwritten, includes participants assigned to the program dating back to late-November 2011. The list shows that participants in probation HIP were primarily A-misdemeanor and D-felony offenders, until July 2013. Two A-felony offenders and two B-felony offenders were admitted to the program that month, out of nine total.

Murder suspects Garreth Stephens and Christopher Sowders — who are accused of the murder of a man as part of a botched burglary in Clarksville last year — are probation HIP participants as a condition of bond.

COMMUNITY CORRECTIONS

Convicted criminals sentenced to serve time in community corrections’ HIP typically have their ankle bracelets activated within 24 hours of being sentenced, Mason said.

“When we get the paper and the body together, we go ahead and put the ankle bracelet on that person right then and there, regardless of their ability to pay or any other matter,” Mason said. “We’re going to hook that person up right then and there because, first of all, you’ve got a court order that says they’re supposed to be on home detention.”

Mason said that the program — which looks after 35 people at present — successfully collects about 80 percent of the fees owed by participants. It’s 2013-14 budget of about $200,000 is funded nearly down the middle between IDOC funds and user fees.

The technology used by community corrections HIP is more advanced than probation’s, Mason said. Probation HIP owns the tracking bracelets it uses, which are monitored by OmniLink.

Community corrections’ tracking bracelets send out a signal indicating the location of the bracelet every minute, while the bracelets used by probation HIP transmit locations a varying number of times; Some send a signal every three minutes, while others transmit every five or 10 minutes.

Community corrections leases tracking bracelets from Behavioral Interventions. Mason said leasing the devices instead of purchasing them ensures that there are only seven devices that aren’t hooked up to a participant, which limits the amount the department pays in shelf fees.

Probation’s HIP owns more than 100 devices, according to OmniLink invoices obtained through a public records request to the Clark County auditor’s office. OmniLink charges probation 80 cents per day per inactive device in shelf fees. The probation department paid more than $14,000 in shelf fees for inactive devices in 2013, according to OmniLink invoices paid by the probation department.

Sumler initially denied the department paid “shelf fees,” but acknowledged the department pays for “air time” for inactive devices.

CONSOLIDATION?

Mason and Moore argue that eliminating the HIP program in probation and allowing community corrections to take over the monitoring of all HIP participants would free up money in the county’s general fund. Community corrections is funded by IDOC grants and user fees from participants in its programs, which include HIP, day reporting and work release.

“It’s actually one of the rare things in Clark County where I think it would be a win-win, because I think it would benefit probation and benefit community corrections at the same time,” Mason said. “It would actually benefit the people in the community, everybody.

“The benefit to probation is, it would give the opportunity to get out of doing things that are nonprobation related. They can focus their efforts on dealing with people who are on probation. If Mr. Delehanty moved our to our program, that would free up funds in the probation department to hire a new probation officer, which they say that they so desperately need.”

Mason added that Clark County is one of just a few counties in Indiana who have two home incarceration programs.

Sumler said the HIP in probation generates up to $150,000 per year in probation user fees.

“If we turn that over to community corrections, probation doesn’t get that,” Sumler said. “And then you’ve got county general [budget] that’s going to have to come in and fund our operating expenses and stuff like that.

“Who wants to give that up?”

But that’s not what unifying the programs is about, said Moore.

“I really don’t think money’s the issue in home incarceration. I think it’s safety, and I believe that’s what that program is for,” Moore said. “And when I hear things like bracelets are not turned on until people get their money together, that’s the more serious issue.

“It’s interesting how this becomes a money issue. It really isn’t.”