Alexandria is one of four Virginia localities chosen for a yearlong experimental program using high-technology, camera-fitted telephones to monitor probationers and parolees. Corrections officials say the new technology may help cut down on jail crowding by enabling them to release more prisoners before their full sentences are up.
The "telecoms," which can transmit a still photograph every few seconds of the person talking, will assure authorities that the convict calls from home after curfew and does not use a pay phone or an impersonator. The devices also will be used to observe the convict's appearance, demeanor and surroundings, particularly when a client has problems with violence or drug abuse.
"We could observe injuries or odd behavior," said Walter Pulliam Jr., manager of the state's probation and parole support services.
The machines will be used to supervise those assigned to intensive supervision programs -- people who are considered more likely to violate probation or parole conditions and who would be in prison if not for the program, according to Pulliam.
"This is not going to replace any" home visits, said Terrel D. Adcock, Alexandria's intensive supervision parole officer. "It's going to supplement contacts."
Alexandria will join Virginia Beach, Roanoke and Wytheville as sites for the demonstration project, which will cost the state $12,000 for the one-year experiment.
Of the 550 people on probation or parole in Alexandria, only the 20 in the intensive supervision program will be eligible for the program, officials said. A committee of parole officers will choose two people for the program and rotate them every few months, Adcock said.
Alexandria officials hope to have the program under way in a month. But they are uncertain how effective the devices will be.
"This is an experimental program," Adcock said. "I'm interested in anything that's going to assist us."
New Jersey corrections officials used the phones in a 2 1/2-month experiment this year. They were such a success that program director Richard B. Talty plans to buy or lease some of the phones permanently.
"The technology worked very well," he said. "I think this device will be used more and more in the future."
Talty also noted that the eight clients monitored during their experiment viewed the device as a novelty and did not regard it as intrusive.
"It acts like a leash," Talty said. "You don't let people stray too far."
Officials at Luma Telecom Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., which manufactures the devices, say numerous states are interested in the phones.
"As states keep adding on, we'll have a national network," said Alan W. Martin, the company's regional director based in New York.