With the help of computers and book-sized television monitors, the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office soon will be able to detain 10 county prisoners at their homes and peer into their daily lives to make sure they are meeting the terms of their incarceration.
The program, the first of its kind in Loudoun, will help reduce crowding at the jail and give nonviolent offenders a chance to ease back into the community, said Sgt. Robert Hammes, director of the work release program. It is expected to begin in June.
"We can kind of help them get back into society," Hammes said. "Whenever they're not at work or these community programs, they're required to be at their house."
The Sheriff's Office is developing strict rules for the program, Hammes said. Only 10 inmates at any given time will be allowed to participate. It will be limited to those inmates who have been sentenced to 60 days or less or who have 60 days or less to serve in jail.
Inmates with a record or a history of violence or sexual crimes will not be allowed in the program. Participants will undergo weekly drug tests at a jail facility, and they will not be allowed to drink alcohol.
"Every time that phone rings on their monitor, they'll be tested for alcohol," he said, estimating that inmates would be called three to five times a day. "A lot of these people, that's their trouble to begin with."
Each participant must work and perform community service and each will be charged $7 a day to participate in the program. If any of the rules are broken, or if the inmates fail to pay their way, they could be sent back to jail.
"They will be required to come to the center at the drop of a hat," Hammes said.
Loudoun is buying the equipment with the help of a $41,800 state grant. A central computer, monitors and cameras are expected to arrive later this month. The office also bought special devices to do remote testing for alcohol use, Hammes said.
Deputies will be able to watch an inmate blow into the alcohol testing device and keep photographic records of each test, according to a brochure published by Mitsubishi, the firm that won the contract to supply the equipment.
All of the gear will be connected to the Sheriff's Office by telephone lines. Deputies plan to call the homes to check on the inmates. They expect to begin using the equipment in June, after several months of training. The use of electronic surveillance will fit in well with a work release program already in place in the county, Hammes said. More than 20 jail inmates regularly work in the community during the day, but spend the nights in a jail annex near Leesburg, he said.
Loudoun Commonwealth's Attorney William T. Burch said he supports using the monitoring equipment because it will help relieve chronic crowding at the jail, where the number of inmates last year often was nearly double the jail's 63-bed capacity.
"I think it's going to be a good program," he said. "This, in the long run, is going to be a lot cheaper."
At least nine similar programs are expected to be in place statewide by the end of the year, including one already operating in Fairfax County, said John Kuplinski, a grant monitor in the state Department of Criminal Justice Services. The grant to Loudoun was part of a $300,000 allocation last year by the General Assembly, he said.
In addition to helping ease crowding, Kuplinski said, electronic monitoring helps law enforcement agencies get sick or pregnant inmates into a better environment.