The dissolution of a 22-year-old court monitoring system has pushed Dane County judges toward the sidelines in sentencing in-home electronic supervision.
Budget cuts and overlap with the Dane County Sheriff’s Office’s post-conviction supervision ended the circuit court’s Electronic Monitoring Program on Jan. 1, though judges still have statutory authority to order home supervision.
“We used a lot of the same equipment and do a lot of the same things,” said Capt. Jeff Teuscher, Dane County Jail administrator. “So it’s really incumbent upon all of us to find efficiencies in tight budget times.”
But court officials and attorneys say the loss of the program, launched in 1989, strips away judicial input in post-conviction supervision sentencing and could make it harder for some offenders to avoid jail.
Under the Sheriff’s Custody Alternative Monitoring Program, offenders might have a tougher time getting post-conviction supervision because prior criminal history is often a roadblock to a monitoring bracelet, said Jessa Nicholson, a Madison criminal defense attorney with Nicholson Law Office LLC.
That wasn’t the case in the EMP program, Nicholson said, because judges considered the relevance of past offenses.
“A guy who got into a bar fight at 19 and had a simple battery conviction and then picks up an OWI second at 38,” Nicholson said, “probably won’t be eligible for CAMP, but he might have been for the court program.”
Teuscher said that isn’t true.
A prior record won’t automatically disqualify someone from CAMP, he said, and the program takes into account current charges, criminal history and experience with other rehabilitative programs.
“There are a number of people in the CAMP program convicted of battery and other misdemeanor crimes,” Teuscher said. “Quite frankly, I think judges here are a lot more critical of who is put out on the program than most defense attorneys.”
Still, the absence of court oversight through the program is a concern, said Dane County Circuit Court Judge William Hanrahan. Courts should be involved in matters of due process, he said, to ensure that offenders are getting the proper sentence, whether it be home supervision or jail time.
“If a person is convicted of felony nonsupport because all they do is sit on the couch and drink beer, the court could sentence that person to jail,” Hanrahan said. “But the sheriff could sentence that person to home detention, where they can sit home and drink beer.”
Judges now sentence offenders to jail and the Sheriff’s Office decides if electronic monitoring is warranted, thereby keeping the courts “out of the loop” as to how well supervision is working, said Clerk of Courts Carlo Esqueda.
The court supervision, which ran through the clerk’s office, used a caseworker to track offenders on home monitoring and notify the courts of any violations, at which point the individual would serve the remainder of the sentence in jail.
That part-time caseworker position was eliminated at a savings of $30,550.
Teuscher acknowledged judges now must trust that the right people will be put on electronic monitoring, but he said the change doesn’t eliminate judicial discretion.
“The court,” he said, “has the full latitude to sentence however they see fit.”
The sheriff’s program, Teuscher said, provides more resources to monitor offenders on electronic supervision. The CAMP program, he said, is stricter in that is requires random home checks, something the court’s system did not do.
“It was the decision the courts made to eliminate the program due to budget cuts,” Teuscher said. “I would ask them why.”
Esqueda said the court cut the program because it did not constitute a “core judicial function.”
Another factor, he said, was the decline in home detention sentences issued by judges, a shift that coincided with the expansion of CAMP in 2008.
The caseload for EMP declined each of the past four years, from 200 in 2008 to 97 in 2011.
There are now 150 people on electronic monitoring through the Sheriff’s Office.
“When the court’s program was created there was no electronic monitoring program in the jail,” Esqueda said. “Now, many inmates are qualifying for the sheriff’s program, making ours somewhat redundant.”