State rep informs Scott County Commission about house-arrest bill

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

BENTON, Mo. -- State and local officials are teaming up for a bill that would allow certain state prisoners to be placed on house arrest using electronic monitoring shackles.

State Rep. Ellen Brandom, 160th district, met with Scott County officials during the regular county commission meeting Tuesday to discuss the bill she intends to file.

Brandom presented county officials with a copy of the bill she introduced last year after discussing with commissioners their concerns about the rate counties are reimbursed for holding state prisoners being cut from $22 per day to $19.58. The actual cost for the county to hold a prisoner is roughly $35 per day.

Attending the meeting in addition to county commissioners were David A. Dolan, judge for the 33rd Judicial Circuit; Scott Horman, associate circuit Division 5 judge; Christy Hency, circuit court clerk for Scott County; and Lt. Jerry Bledsoe and Danita Keen from the Scott County Sheriff's Department.

Commissioner Dennis Ziegenhorn had previously suggested that if the state allowed the county to place some of the state's non-violent offenders held in the county jail on house arrest, the Department of Corrections could reimburse the county for the daily cost of the shackle instead of $19.58 saving both the state and county money.

With the state legislature facing an even tighter budget than last year, "if it will save money, we should be able to sell it," Brandom said. "This year we really want to pass this bill."

"For a county such as ours, it may be our salvation," Presiding Commissioner Jamie Burger said, "because we are drowning and it doesn't seem to be getting any better. Our costs are rising."

The bill is "something the state should embrace," he added. "It should save them money, too."

Brandom's bill would approve the use of the electronically-monitored house arrest program for certain non-violent prisoners and a reimbursement rate of $12 per day for those prisoners, enough to cover the daily cost of a shackle.

"It would apply statewide," she said. "The Cape [Girardeau County] commissioners would like to do something like this, too."

Brandom said she plans to pre-file the bill Dec. 1 after which any groups with an interest may review it.

Rather than risk having the bill picked apart at that point, "I want to be prepared to answer their questions," Brandom said. "I want people happy with it ahead of time. We are going to put out a lot of effort to get it to the forefront and get it passed."

Brandom said she is now asking area judges, law enforcement officials and prosecuting attorneys to review her bill so any changes that need to be made are included before she pre-files the bill.

She asked the judges in particular to look for and advise her of any language in the bill that needs to be changed. "The judges would be the most important people to support it," Brandom said.

"I don't see a problem with it," said Dolan, noting an electronic shackle house arrest program was approved for Scott County inmates a couple of years ago.

Horman said fewer prisoners than commissioners think would qualify for the program.

Burger said as the county jail is often near or even above capacity, if just a few prisoners are placed on the house arrest program it would save the county the cost of paying to board them in another facility.

The definition of a "non-violent offender" will be particularly important, Horman noted. "Some people think cooking methamphetamine is not violent, some think it is," he said.

Ziegenhorn said law enforcement and judges should also be careful not to put offenders on the program who are arrested for minor crimes but known to engage in more serious criminal activity.

He also suggested that Brandom consider presenting this bill to the budget committee as a budget amendment as the bill could possibly have better chance of approval there.

Bills introduced the traditional way often end up getting bogged down by unrelated amendments attached to them before going to a vote.

"I think she's got a good shot at it because everybody is going to want to save money," Ziegenhorn said.

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