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Municipal courts’ electronic monitoring program was over capacity

EHDP, suspended from new defendants for a week, was designed to alleviate jail overcrowding; county officials said one judge abused program

The Montgomery County municipal courts’ electronic home detention program, which was created to help alleviate the overcrowded jail population, was recently suspended for a week because it was over capacity.

County officials say one judge, Judge James L. Manning of the county’s Western Division court in New Lebanon, has improperly overused the GPS ankle bracelets by using them for less-serious offenses and in conjunction with setting bond, instead of one or the other.

Manning has sentenced defendants to the program far more than any other municipal judge. As of Sept. 17, Manning had put 57 people, including 54 pre-trial defendants and three post-conviction criminals in the program. No other county municipal judge had more than 10 defendants being monitored by the program’s GPS devices.

“In our opinion it’s not a best practice to place people in the EHDP program who have already posted bail,” Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley said. “The intent of the program was designed to maximize jail space for those who most need to be there away from the community, but still give judges a sanction tool. By having them post bail and placing them on EHDP, that defeats the purpose of the program.”

Manning disagrees, saying that not only is his use of electronic monitoring appropriate, but that the program should be expanded. Manning is scheduled to meet Thursday with Foley and Montgomery County Criminal Justice Director Joe Spitler.

“There needs to be more officers and there needs to be more hours of coverage,” Manning said. “They only have two officers in this program. If one of them is out and the other stops at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, no one else the rest of that day gets on EHDP. They don’t authorize any overtime on weekends when the jail is getting crowded.”

The Montgomery County Jail at times this year has crept near its 910-inmate capacity. To save the $68 per inmate per day cost, the county’s municipal court judges have been increasing the use of the ankle bracelets since 2008 when the program was created.

Manning, 67, who has been on the bench since 1994, said adding monitoring to a low bond gives an added layer of safety to the community: “I think the answer here is to expand the program because it works.”

While some of Manning’s defendants have been accused of crimes such as child endangering, domestic violence, drunk driving and violating a protection order, others have been billed $10 per day for weeks of monitoring for lower-level misdemeanors.

The Dayton Daily News obtained records showing that as of Sept. 17, Manning had:

  • One woman serve 47 days on electronic monitoring and be billed $470 on a charge of driving under suspension.
  • One man serve 72 days and be billed $720 for possession of drugs and no operator’s license.
  • Another man serve 65 days and be billed $650 on charges of operating a vehicle without a valid license.
  • Another man serve 110 days and be billed $1,100 on charges of no driver’s license and driving under suspension.”

“The city of Dayton will not hold anybody on the driving charges. They just won’t,” Manning said. “I obviously disagree with the sentencing philosophy of the judges in Dayton. That’s just the reality.”

In many of Manning’s cases, defendants had to pay a bond and be subject to the monitoring system and the $10 daily fee that goes with it under the possible theory it was necessary to ensure their appearance in court.

A Sept. 12 email from Spitler informed county municipal judges not to use the monitoring system because two full-time staffers were not enough to monitor a program list that had grown to 143 people. On Wednesday, that number had shrunk to 109 and new defendants were able to be added.

County officials such as Foley, Spitler, Sheriff Phil Plummer, Sheriff’s Office jail commander Maj. Scott Landis and Montgomery County Administrator Joe Tuss are meeting with the county’s municipal court judges to discuss possible solutions to jail overcrowding such as a day reporting system, shorter sentences or a fugitive safe surrender program for those with active warrants.

Earlier this year, judges were asked to help keep the jail population low.

“The judges responded and, all of a sudden, the numbers went from about 70 or 80 to 130,” said Dayton Municipal Court Presiding Judge John Pickrel, who only had sentenced four defendants to monitoring through Sept. 17. “So, that prompted us to look at how the units were being utilized.”

“It can be a problem because if the jail is over capacity, that can result on some pressures on the Sheriff to release people and the Sheriff doesn’t usually like to do that,” Pickrel said. “Judges should, and most judges do, look at other options other than incarceration. That’s usually a last resort.”

Foley said Manning was among the judges who helped find a solution to the days when Montgomery County was spending $800,000 per year to house inmates in other counties due to overcrowding.

That helped lead to the formation of the monitoring program which now has an annual budget of $318,000. Two full-time staffers attach and detach the electronic devices and respond to alerts by communicating with the proper authorities. It can help protect domestic violence victims and allows defendants to keep jobs and attend school by tracking defendants moves by GPS and cell phone towers.

“We need to prioritize (jail) space for those people who most need to be separated from the community,” Foley said. “For everybody else, we need to listen to judges and provide them with some tools that are cost effective and allow them to invoke sanctions when they deem it appropriate.”

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