The Lowcountry — especially crime victims — for years have had a false sense of security because of unregulated and unsupervised electronic monitoring of criminal defendants being detained at home.
Circuit Judge Stephanie McDonald took the appropriate action when she recently imposed a moratorium on such monitoring in Charleston and Berkeley counties.
As they consider solutions, local officials should start with Horry County.
In Horry, the sheriff’s office employs two deputies whose job is to oversee the home detention program. Deputy Jennifer DeShong says the program runs smoothly. She has worked with home detentions for 10 years and doesn’t remember hearing any complaints.
Local law enforcement officers supervise people who are being detained in jails. Why wouldn’t they be the ones to oversee home detentions also?
Charleston County has certainly given the present monitoring system a fair shot, and it has come up far short.
Indeed, a moratorium similar to the current one was imposed in 2006. This time, the moratorium should not be lifted until regulations are in place to ensure that people who aren’t in jail as they await criminal trials are where they are supposed to be — not out committing more crimes.
That electronic monitoring has been used here over a decade without adquate standards and regulations is galling. As reporter Glenn Smith observed in a recent article, there have been multiple incidents of monitoring failures.
Defendants have removed their ankle bracelets or let the batteries run out so that they can go where they want and do what they want, including committing crimes.
And even more stunning, some of the companies being paid to monitor the defendants are not reporting abnormalities, not keeping records and not cooperating with authorities.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson is justifiably outraged. And so is Judge McDonald, who is reportedly gathering her own information in search of a solution.
Horry County’s system deserves serious consideration by Charleston County.
Other fixes could involve a judical order outlining regulations, legislative action to require certification of companies that provide monitoring services and standards of efficiency and accuracy for monitoring equipment.
The notion of electronic monitoring is appealing. It can reduce the demand for jail space, while providing a safeguard for the community — a way to know that people released on bail, especially those who might be considered a threat, are not at large.
Would that it always worked that way. But there have been reports that some companies are cavalier about keeping records and reporting irregularities.
In one instance, officials were denied a record of defendants’ actions by a monitoring company employee who said it would take too long. One defendant was off the monitoring grid for 12 days, and authorities were not alerted.
And bail bonding companies who hire electronic monitoring companies have an incentive to look the other way instead of reporting problems. Otherwise they could forfeit money if a defendant is sent to jail for breaking the conditions of his bail.
The solicitor was on target when she said, “We are just lucky in this community we have not had another disaster” due to lax electronic monitoring.
Residents should be confident that criminal defendants are not in a position to do harm. Until electronic monitoring is dependable, it should remain off the table.