Upshur County to lease GPS units

BUCKHANNON – Upshur County’s home confinement program will soon be using complete GPS units to monitor its clients..

The Upshur County Commission on Thursday approved an addendum to its equipment lease agreement with 3M Electronic Monitoring, Inc., which will enable the home confinement program to lease the GPS units for $3.20 a day.

Cpl. Rodney Rolenson of the Upshur County Sheriff’s Office – who also serves as the county’s home confinement program supervisor – appeared at the commission meeting to tout the advantages of complete GPS units over the RF units the program currently utilizes. RF units are comprised of a receiver box and an ankle bracelet transmitter worn by a home confinement client.

“Right now, the only way for me to know if somebody goes out of range is when that ankle bracelet goes farther than 50-75 feet away from that box (receiver),” Rolenson told the commission. “Then, it tells me they’re out of range.”

As the number of people who work as private contractors in Upshur County has increased, it has become more and more challenging to monitor individuals who don’t have set schedules, Rolenson said.

“What I’m asking you all to look into is going to complete GPS units, that allows me to know where they are 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” Rolenson said. “If they tell me, ‘I’ve got a job to do today, and I’ve got to go to Morgantown, and work on the hospital or whatever, that allows me to see exactly when they leave, the road they traveled, the speed that they’re going down the four-lane and it also allows me to know where they’re stopping at or how long they stopped there.

“Right now, with this unit that we have, if they say, ‘I’ve got to go to work, I’m going up to Morgantown,’ currently I don’t know if they’re in Morgantown, if they’re in Clarksburg, if they’re stopping at Sheetz for an hour or where they’re at until they come home,” he added.

Rolenson said transitioning to complete GPS units would lower the county’s liability.

“It takes away all the uncertainties about where they’re at, what they’re doing and when they’re returning home,” he said. “This gives us a very, very hi-tech tool.”

The cost per GPS unit per day is $3.20 – more than double what the RF units cost to lease, Rolenson said.

He said the increase in cost will be passed along to the client rather than the county.

“I’ve requested the circuit judge and the magistrates increase the home confinement fees to $15 a day to offset that cost,” he said. “We haven’t raised home confinement fees in this county for years – almost since it started it was $10 a day.”

Acquiring the GPS units is also beneficial because it will allow Rolenson to program “inclusionary zones” – areas in which the person is permitted to be – and “exclusionary zones,” defined as areas into which the client is prohibited from traveling.

“For instance, if you have a client who’s been involved in a real bad domestic, rather than placing him over in jail, they can actually be released on GPS home confinement,” he noted, explaining that residences, schools and places of employment can be programmed into GPS units as exclusionary zones. Rolenson is then alerted if, for example, a person who is forbidden from entering his or her spouse’s work place travels within its vicinity.

The GPS units can incorporate client’s whole property boundary, so Rolenson wouldn’t be notified unless they leave their property.

“So when they’re saying ‘I got to go to the wood pile to get wood for the stove,’ ‘I got to go out back to cut my grass’ rather than them calling in and us saying, ‘OK, you’ve got half an hour to cut your grass’ and not knowing where he’s at in that half an hour, I can just spread that out onto his yard, and won’t get alerted at all.”

Rolenson said the county hadn’t transitioned to complete GPS units sooner because most function off cellular towers, and cellular service is poor in more rural areas of the county; however, the units Rolenson proposed to lease function off cell towers and telephone land lines.

Pending the approval of 26th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Kurt Hall, home confinement fees will increase to $15 effective March 1, Rolenson said.

Commissioner Troy “Buddy” Brady, a former deputy with the Upshur County Sheriff’s Office, expressed enthusiasm about the transition.

“I think once the magistrates and the Circuit Court realizes how this GPS works, I think you’ll have double the numbers (in the home confinement program),” Brady said. “I see this as a great idea, I see your numbers doubling, and I see you saving this county several thousand dollars in jail costs because you’ll take out the unknown.”

Commissioner Donnie Tenney made a motion to approve the addendum to the contract, which passed unanimously.

Rolenson also delivered the home confinement year-end report at Thursday’s meeting. In 2013, the home confinement program saved Upshur County $304,657.42 in regional jail fees, he reported. The program also collected $56,024 from participants for a grand total of savings of $360,681.42, Rolenson said.

The number of clients served through the program has steadily dropped, decreasing from 91 in 2011 to 75 in 2012; only 64 clients were enrolled in the program in 2013.

“My question is, why that decline? What’s causing that?” Tenney asked.

“Some of it might have to do with the Legislature changing the laws on driving suspended (offenses) and stuff it used to be if you got first-offense driving suspended, it was six months, and they dropped it down to 30 days,” Rolenson replied. “So some of it’s that, and some of it’s just the referrals.”

Referrals come from Circuit Court judges, magistrates and prosecuting attorney’s offices, Rolenson said.