Dubuque County Sheriff’s Department leaders are deeming its house-arrest program a success about one year after its resumption.
Since the program resumed last fall, 77 people have used it to serve their sentences.
“We’ve only had one person who violated, where we had to rescind their privileges,” said Sheriff Joe Kennedy. “So far, we’ve been real happy with it. It’s something that can have a positive, long-term effect on our jail population.”
The county had discontinued the program in the early 2000s. But as the COVID-19 pandemic started impacting the area, officials started looking for ways to reduce the inmate population in the Dubuque County Jail in hopes of lessening the chances of outbreaks.
Reviving the monitored house-arrest program was among the ideas that emerged. Through the program, a convicted person who meets certain qualifications can serve the sentence at home monitored via an ankle bracelet by county jail staff. Those people only are allowed to leave their residences during that time to go to work or to attend to medical needs.
Sgt. Kurt Schultz noted that not just anyone can participate in the program.
“There are certain disqualifiers,” he said. “They’re not allowed to be in (the program) for a violent or sexual or domestic crime. Some things would make someone a flight risk.”
Kennedy said the participants who qualify have been convicted of minor crimes, for which they have been sentenced to time in the county jail. Inmates who have been sentenced to state prison cannot participate in the program.
“A lot of them have been OWI cases and things where they are on (house arrest) for a couple of days or weeks and off it quickly,” he said. “We’re trying to take baby steps, to make sure it’s successful.”
But Kennedy plans to grow the program to include people who otherwise would be confined to jail while awaiting trial.
“Ultimately, we would like people who are on small bonds who have steady employment, who can go to work,” he said.
Ben Bartles, a defense attorney with Reynolds & Kenline, LLP, has clients who have utilized the new house arrest program.
“I basically get it all set up for them, so the sheriff’s office can go forward,” he said. “I’ll ask the judge, ‘Hey, will you give the permission for this program to be an option?’”
And Bartles said not all of his clients have been accepted into it.
“The jailers are doing a really good job determining who qualifies for the program,” he said. “They’re doing it responsibly.”
The county contracts with monitor firm Attenti for the program and pays $4.50 per monitor per day. So far, there have been about seven people participating in the program at any given time.
Participants still have to pay the county the $55 per day they would owe if they were being housed in the county jail. That, Kennedy said, is to cover the cost of the monitor rental and the employees who organize, set up and then monitor the participant, and to bank money for the potential damage or destruction of monitoring equipment. It costs $1,200 to replace just one set.
Deputy Ron Newman operates the program day-to-day. He said it has become more and more popular.
“Obviously, nobody wants to come to jail, so more and more people inquire about doing this,” he said.
Bartles said it has worked well for his clients. In particular, he said, it avoids some of the hurdles involved in the county’s work-release program — in which someone stays at the jail but is allowed to go to work if they were employed for more than one month before their sentence began.
“When they get a jail sentence, they can get work release, but it’s a big hassle, and they have to pay in advance,” he said. “Most people are living paycheck to paycheck, so they can’t do that. So maybe they won’t report to jail, will get picked up and have to serve out their time inside.”
In general, Bartles said, those on all sides have a “shared belief” that the house-arrest program is good.
“My clients screw up. But we should all have an appreciation for our ability to change,” he said. “I want to make sure we can still punish or deter them, but not set them up by making the motivations that pressured them into criminal conduct more severe for them.”
Newman also speaks with participants’ employers in operating the program and said he has received good reviews.
“The people in house arrest really are becoming better employees than they were, it sounds like,” he said. “Because they show up. They’re on time because we know where they are. They build habits.”