A Prince George's County private home-detention firm that lost track of criminal suspects and convicted criminals under its supervision more than 600 times this summer is going out of business, one of its owners said yesterday.
Pat Godhard, co-owner of Home Tracking Inc. of Upper Marlboro, said he and his partner, Jerry Romer, decided this week to close their doors because they were tired of recurring publicity over the company's inability to vouch for the whereabouts of criminal defendants under house arrest.
The Washington Post reported this month that Home Tracking was responsible for 98 percent of all house-arrest violations reported by home-detention firms in Maryland in July and August. The company also came under scrutiny in June when one of the people it was monitoring was charged with murder.
"The whole thing blew up in our faces," Godhard said. "It just got out of control. We just looked at each other and said, 'We don't want to deal with all this.' "
Home Tracking's owners informed Maryland officials on Monday of their plans to fold, said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Sipes said the company has until Oct. 29 to hand in its license and to transfer its criminal defendants to other home-detention programs. He said the state court system also will be notified that Home Tracking is shutting down.
"The department will go to extraordinary lengths to make sure that the public's safety will not be compromised by this," Sipes said.
Home Tracking had "about 50" people under its supervision as of yesterday, Godhard said, down from a high of 90 in the spring. About 400 people are enrolled in private home-detention programs in Maryland.
Godhard said he planned to negotiate with another private home-detention company yesterday about transferring Home Tracking's roster of clients but declined to name the firm.
Home detention is a form of house arrest in which criminal suspects and convicts are ordered by judges to be confined to their homes during certain hours. Private home-detention companies make money by collecting payments directly from defendants, usually $8 to $15 a day.
Home-detention firms have been operating in Maryland since the mid-1980s, although they were completely unregulated until July 1, when new state rules went into effect requiring them to be licensed, insured and audited.
They also must now submit monthly reports listing the occasions in which defendants violated terms of their confinement. According to those reports, Home Tracking lost track of people under its supervision 625 times in July and August. Most were reported missing for less than two hours, but 10 were absent without leave for at least 24 hours.
In comparison, the other five home-detention companies in Maryland had a combined total of only 10 instances in which their clients were reported missing during those two months.
Another new regulation requires companies to use electronic devices--such as ankle bracelets equipped with radio transmitters--to monitor criminals while under curfew. Home Tracking previously had used random phone calls to keep track of its clients, a method some lawmakers had criticized as lax and unreliable.
Trena Wagner, owner of Monitoring Services Inc., the only other home-detention firm in Prince George's, said the new state regulations are strict but necessary.
"They are a hassle and they are a lot of work, but we should have had them all along," she said. "They really make sure that everybody is doing things the proper way. Now we'll see how many [other home-detention firms] are able to stick around."