GPS Could Reduce Overcrowding in Winnebago County Jail

GPS Inmates
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For the first time in its history, the inmate count at the Winnebago County Jail in Illinois reached 1,000, up 17% from just a year ago. Now, county officials are investigating the possible implementation of a GPS tracking system to monitor low-level and nonviolent offenders as well as those out on bail in an effort to cut cost and reduce overcrowding.

The Winnebago County Board Public Safety committee supports the idea of using GPS technology, but wants to explore other means of reducing the prison population before putting out the money needed to start a GPS-enabled monitoring system. Just this year, the committee budgeted $680,000 to hire more personnel for the court system in an effort to speed up the judicial system and thus reduce the number of those awaiting a trial. They have hired attorneys, investigators, probation officers, and court clerks for added efficiency. Public safety is another concern. While wearing an ankle bracelet may deter many would-be offenders, it may not keep a violent or high-risk individual from repeating a crime.

The committee has investigated the many aspects of GPS monitoring and now must decide if the savings justify the overall expenditure. Their findings show that the program would cost the state about $300,000. This figure is based on outfitting 250 inmates with a tracking device. Then there is the cost of monitoring vs. maintaining a person for a day. GPS tracking costs about $13 a day compared to $65 a day to keep the individual in jail. In other words, tracking a parolee for 90 days could save the taxpayer $4,700.

No matter what the savings are, the priority must be public safety. There must be cooperation between the judicial system and law enforcement when it comes to sentencing. Wearing a GPS tracking device could be a condition of bond or part of a person’s sentence, but the crime must also be taken into consideration. And of course additional probation officers would be needed to run the program and respond when a violation has occurred.

Winnebago County tried GPS tracking in 1992, but the program lasted only two years because of the fear of not being able to adequately monitor the parolees wearing the devices. Now that overcrowding in prisons is very much a reality, the issue has surfaced again. Advances in GPS technology and less expensive systems may now allow the county to move forward in its efforts to reduce the inmate population in its jail while at the same time maintaining public safety.

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Hillary Mayfield

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