By Floyd Ingram/Chickasaw Journal
HOUSTON – Mayor Stacey Parker believes punishing juveniles who break the rules in Houston is a worthwhile expenditure of city dollars.
After more than six months of trying to get a county-wide program set up that would put electronic ankle monitors on juveniles, the Houston Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted last week to fund the program. The city has also expanded the program to include adults.
“We tried to get the county on board because the juvenile court is a county court system,” said Parker. “Let’s open the door and try this and see if they get on board.”
On a motion by Alderman-At-Large Barry Springer and a second by District 3 Alderman Frank Thomas, the board voted to put electronic ankle bracelets on juveniles and adults arrested in the city on a case-by-case basis and at the discretion of judges.
Prior to the decision, the board met with Van Hopkins, of Adapts Electronic Monitoring of Tupelo, who explained how the program traditionally works.
Hopkins said the city would pay upfront costs to implement the program, but the court would impose fines on those fitted with an ankle bracelet to recoup expenses.
“We have found the program to be most effective with adults because they know what’s at stake – jail time,” said Hopkins. “Juveniles are the ones who test the system until the word gets out. Unless you are willing to lock violators up this won’t work.”
It currently costs the city $30 a day to send a person to the Chickasaw County Jail. Incarcerating a teenager at the juvenile detention center in Tupelo costs $100 a day. An electronic ankle bracelet costs from $5 to $10 a day depending on the system used.
The city began pondering putting electronic ankle monitors on juvenile offenders in March and even called a special meeting of county and state agencies and court officials to discuss the issue.
Parker and Springer approached the county in April asking them to join the city in funding this program.
The city was told a similar program in Amory saw juvenile crime drop almost 300 percent in a matter of months.
Houston Town Marshal Billy Voyles and Houston Youth Court Prosecuting Attorney Elizabeth Ausbern both told the city they support the program.
“I’m for and think something needs to be done,” said Voyles. “Picking these kids up and calling their parents doesn’t work anymore.”
Parker also pointed out the bracelets can also be used on adults.
“Right now we are paying $30 a day every time we carry someone to the jail,” said Parker. “We can put an ankle bracelet on them, they can stay home and take care of themselves.”
One of the city’s current expenses has city inmates asking to go to the dentist or doctor while they are incarcerated and Houston taxpayers picking up the bill.
Chickasaw County also has one of the highest dropout rates in the state and ankle bracelets can be used to monitor truancy.
One feature of ankle bracelets is once the youth gets outside their established perimeter, an audible alarm goes off. If they are with friends, the group realizes the police will soon show up looking for them and don’t want the offender around.
Springer’s motion did not state a figure to be spent on ankle monitors. In a previous meeting the city had discussed earmarking $3,000 to begin the program.
Hopkins said his company would teach a Houston police officer how to install and remove ankle monitors and connect the device to the GPS computer system that tracks the wearer.
The program has been implemented in Monroe, Prentiss and Itawamba counties, Hopkins said.