Electronic house arrest, undertaken on an experimental basis more than 1 1/2 years ago in Fairfax County, has proved no cure for jail crowding, but county Sheriff M. Wayne Huggins sees it as an effective alternative to jail for some offenders.
The house arrest program, in which some people found guilty of minor, nonviolent crimes are linked to electronic surveillance equipment to ensure that they are confined to their homes, is scheduled to expire in summer, but Huggins said he expects that it will be extended. Sixty offenders have been confined under the program, but only one is currently a participant.
A principal goal of the program, also used in Norfolk, is relieving jail crowding. But the Fairfax program has received mixed reviews from judges, who make the decisions on placement, Huggins said.
Some judges who are enthusiastic about the program "see this as a middle ground where they still have significant control," Huggins said, while others have adopted a "wait-and-see attitude."
Huggins said the program has "come along slowly" but that it is an effective and economical alternative to jail for some petty, nonviolent offenders, including some low-risk offenders with medical problems. Offenders are charged $5 a day to participate in the program. Four participants have violated house arrest rules and have been sent to jail.
In the Fairfax program, a computer in the sheriff's office places telephone calls to offenders, who are instructed to give identification and the time, then told to insert an electronically coded bracelet into a verification device attached to their telephones.