Plan to release low-level Miami-Dade inmates on GPS monitors to save over $1 million a year

More non-violent defendants could opt for electronic monitoring instead of bond — and save the county $1 million-plus a year.

08/30/2014 7:14 PM

08/30/2014 7:16 PM

Authorities are hoping to slash Miami-Dade’s jail population by up to 20 percent — and save over $1 million a year — by allowing low-level offenders to opt for a satellite tracking ankle monitor instead of posting a bond.

The plan will only affect non-violent defendants who have already been granted a total bail bond of $7,500 or less. That amount could cover charges ranging from driving with a suspended license to cocaine possession to simple battery.

Too many people are languishing in jail when they could be back home awaiting trial or the conclusion of their case, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Nushin Sayfie told the County Commission’s public safety committee last week.

“There’s a large amount of people who can’t afford a $7,500 bond,” Sayfie, the chief administrative judge over the criminal division, told the committee.

The judge announced the plan as officials, with the budget deadline looming, are scrambling to find enough in budget cuts to save Miami-Dade’s boot camp for youthful offenders, which is a highly praised program.

County commissioners will begin hearings this week on next year’s budget, which must be in place by the end of September.

Miami-Dade’s perennially cash-strapped corrections system has already seen a dramatic dip in the jail population in recent years. The current jail population hovers around 4,800 per day, down from a high of nearly 7,000 back in 2007.

The plan to further thin the ranks of inmates comes as the corrections department remains under federal supervision.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded a three-year probe, saying the nation’s eighth-largest jail system engaged in a “pattern and practice of constitutional violation” of the rights of inmates housed in deplorable living conditions under abusive, inadequate or limited care.

Since then, a woman’s jail was closed in 2012 as officials have become more diligent about pursuing pretrial programs aimed at getting low-risk inmates and the mentally ill out from behind bars.

The jail-release program announced last week has been in the works for several years, and is expected to go into effect sometime in the next several weeks as corrections officials work to gather enough equipment and staff to expand the ranks of those wearing GPS ankle monitors.

“It’s for non-violent criminals, people who do not pose a risk to the community, folks that if they had the money would be gone from the jail anyway,” said Miami-Dade Corrections Director Marydell Guevara.

Miami-Dade prosecutors agreed to the program after receiving assurances that the jail will properly staff the expansion of GPS monitoring and that the devices are “state of the art” and “cannot be tampered with.”

In agreeing to the program, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle also asked that the courts and other agencies work with her office in revising bond amounts designed at keeping the most violent behind bars while awaiting trial.

“Bond amounts for many serious crimes are inadequate to protect the community,” she wrote in a letter in to Miami-Dade Chief Judge Bertila Soto and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

The expanded GPS monitoring program could apply to hundreds of people currently in jail because they can’t afford bond. Not everyone will benefit: a defendant must have a stable address with electricity in which to be able to charge the devices.

Defendants who are released on such low bonds — they must pay 10 percent of the total amount — are not usually required to report every movement while out awaiting trial.

“In my mind, we’re actually making the public even safer,” Judge Sayfie said in an interview. “They’re going to be monitored every minute of every day.”

The courts estimate it could affect between 10 and 20 percent of the current jail population, with significant savings to the taxpayers.

A GPS monitor costs $22.50 a day, while housing an inmate behind bars runs $155, according to the corrections department. A sick inmate who needs medical attention can cost even more.

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