SYCAMORE – Electronic home monitoring has changed quite a bit since DeKalb County Sheriff's Deputy Ray Nelson first began working on the cases.
When it started, electronic home monitoring could only tell authorities whether someone was at home. Now, it can pinpoint exactly where participants are – and where they shouldn't be – every minute. Nelson can even tell if someone is driving too fast on the road.
"I've called people and asked them what the hurry is," he said.
Since the program began in DeKalb County in 1997, more than 2,000 people have participated in electronic home monitoring. As of Jan. 13, there were 21 adults and 11 children wearing the GPS ankle bracelets.
The service helps keep inmates out of the overcrowded county jail, and reduces the county's costs to house inmates in neighboring jails, DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott said.
"It has saved us several thousand dollars a year by keeping them on EHM," Scott said. "Not everybody is appropriate for EHM. But it's a way to either allow them to continue their education or employment."
It costs between $60 to $65 a day to house an inmate in either the Kendall County or Boone County jails, which adds up to about $1 million a year, Scott said. On top of that, the county pays $75 to $120 per one-way trip to transport inmates between those jails and the courthouse.
By comparison, the two electronic home monitoring officers cost the county, including benefits, about $150,000 a year, Scott estimated. Unless a judge waives the fees, county officials charge each defendant $6.50 a day to cover the cost of renting the GPS equipment.
Although the monitoring program saves the county in jail costs, participants' fees do not cover the cost of the program itself. In 2013, the department had a $23,000 deficit between the county's cost of renting the equipment and what they took in from defendants. In 2009, there was a $31,000 deficit.
"It's still cheaper than jail," said DeKalb Sheriff's Lt. Joyce Klein. "It's the cost of doing business. It's not a problem."
Judges and prosecutors decide who can be placed on home monitoring considering many factors, Scott said. As of Jan. 13, the vast majority of participants are facing criminal charges but have not yet been convicted or acquitted.
Nelson said when he started working on home monitoring cases in 2002, the majority of participants were juveniles and adult sentenced offenders. The program began focusing on pretrial defendants in 2004, he said.
"The judge felt with the nature of the charges, they could monitor [participants] and post bond out of jail," Nelson said. "That reduces [jail] overcrowding."
Current electronic home monitoring participants are facing various charges, including domestic battery, violation of an order of protection and home invasion.
To track participants, DeKalb County Sheriff's Deputy Brad Sorenson and Nelson use a GPS monitoring system with maps on a computer. The system is able to square off exclusion zones, or places where participants are not allowed to be, and inclusion zones, places where participants are expected and allowed to be, such as their home or workplace.
Exclusion zones are squared at 1,000 ft. in all directions. When a participant is nearing an exclusion zone, Sorenson and Nelson receive a text message on their phones. If participants continue to approach the exclusion zone after contact is made, police are sent to arrest them.
Participants also can face criminal charges if they tamper with the equipment, or if they fail to properly charge the equipment and the battery dies. The device vibrates when the battery is low, so participants would be letting the battery die deliberately, Nelson said.
Scott said electronic home monitoring is not a solution to the jail overcrowing problem, but it helps both the sheriff's department and EHM participants.
"They can work, have a job, stay at home with their family or continue their education," Scott said. "It really does perform a good function for people."