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Cost savings for taxpayers, opportunity for offenders

Published 10:39pm Monday, September 23, 2013

In these days of intractable partisanship on the federal level and budget cuts on the state and local levels — partly due to said federal partisanship — local governments are finding it necessary to get creative when it comes to bringing in revenue and pinching pennies.

One of the best examples of that I’ve seen here in Suffolk recently is the electronic monitoring program at the Western Tidewater Regional Jail. Already suffering from its own funding issues — being funded by three local governments, after all, pretty much puts it below even them in the monetary food chain — the jail recently took another blow when the U.S. Marshals Service decided it would move most of its federal inmates to Virginia Beach, thereby yanking the funding stream that comes with them.

While the details of that change are still being worked out and may eventually be reversed, there’s no reason the jail shouldn’t find more new ways to cut costs.

Before the issue of the federal inmates even came up, the jail had started a new electronic monitoring program in June. Essentially house arrest, the program allows certain non-violent offenders to stay at home with their families and continue to hold down employment while serving short sentences or awaiting trial.

The program has a number of benefits — for example, it allows the offenders to maintain their employment, which they will likely need to pay costs associated with the court system as well as the other necessities of life. A person who is gainfully employed is also less likely to re-offend, thus enabling a path to a better life.

But there are benefits to the taxpayers, too. The program helps the jail save on two of its biggest line items — staffing, and medical care for inmates.

Fewer inmates in the jail — and especially fewer inmates serving weekends — means fewer hours worked by jail officers. And when on the electronic monitoring program, inmates are responsible for their own health care costs, which can be a huge expense for the jail to cover when an inmate has a major health problem.

There’s no overhead cost to taxpayers, either, since inmates pay a daily fee to cover the lease on the equipment needed for the program.

Jail leadership is to be commended for starting this program and providing a number of benefits, both to the taxpayers and to the nonviolent offenders who, one hopes, will see the privilege of being on the program as an opportunity to turn their lives around.

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