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Local courts to debut electronic anklets to monitor defendants awaiting trial

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Electronic ankle monitors have long been the standard accouterment of convicted lawbreakers who are sentenced to house arrest. But in many parts of the state, ankle monitors have yet to take hold in the area of pretrial detention, where cash bonds and jail time often remain the go-to alternatives.

In Alamance County, however, the ankle monitor may have just gotten its foot through the door of the local court system thanks to a recent decision by the county’s board of commissioners.

During a regularly-scheduled meeting on Tuesday (Jan. 19), the county’s governing board voted 4-to-0 in favor of a proposal that will introduce the limited use of electronic monitoring to ensure the good behavior of people who’ve been charged, but not yet convicted, of certain low-level offenses. Under this plan, the local court system will select five participants in an existing pretrial release program to be fitted with GPS-equipped ankle monitors while they’re awaiting trial for their alleged violations.

Steve Ginter, a retired probation and parole official who administers the county’s pretrial release program, told the commissioners that this pilot monitoring program won’t initially include people accused of domestic violence and other serious offenses. He nevertheless added that the program is based on models in other counties that have been used with defendants charged with violent felonies as well as nonviolent misdemeanors. In particular, he pointed to a program in Robeson County that has reportedly cut the cost of pretrial incarceration by nearly $2 million a year.

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Tom Lambeth, the county’s senior resident superior court judge, told the commissioners that the electronic monitoring program will prove a much-needed asset to the local courts system.

Lambeth added that, without electronic monitoring, judges must take it on faith that defendants will abide by no contact zones and other pretrial release conditions that they impose. Lambeth said that electronic monitoring will enable law enforcement to verify a defendant’s good faith and alert potential victims in the event of a breach in pretrial conditions so they can “get the heck out of there.”

“This is a technology that other counties have used successfully,” he went on to tell the commissioners. “I have hoped for years that we would get this technology…I think it will have the benefit of keeping people safe, and it will have the side benefit of having a cost savings.”

The pretrial monitoring program also received a somewhat more lukewarm endorsement from Alamance County’s sheriff Terry Johnson.

“Initially, I was opposed to this,” Johnson acknowledged before Tuesday’s unanimous vote. “After our people talked to Robeson County and some of the other counties that are using this, I thought…that [defendants] will be able to go out and work and we won’t have to keep them up…But I will tell you this, I will be monitoring this program very, very carefully.”

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