New Orleans — While Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman told the City Council’s criminal justice committee Monday that his office has improved the operations of the ankle monitoring program in recent weeks, council members said they need to examine the results of several pending reports to determine if they support continued funding of the $600,000 program.
The electronic monitoring program has come under fire recently after instances in which youth who wore ankle monitors were arrested in violent gun crimes. In one of those crimes, the teen’s ankle bracelet did not properly function.
Gusman said his office has developed more aggressive procedures to respond to notifications about malfunctioning hardware.
Councilwoman Susan Guidry, who serves as chairwoman of the criminal justice committee, said the headlines of program participants breaking the law have been serious but that they also have been rare. The future of the ankle monitor program, she said, is not something that should be taken lightly since it provides an alternative to locking up everyone who is arrested.
“I’m a firm believer that the city of New Orleans cannot incarcerate our way out of this crime problem,” Guidry said. “We must use effective and appropriate detention alternatives that are available to us, especially when the defendants are juveniles.”
Guidry said the council is still waiting on a report from the National Institute of Justice, a division of the Department of Justice, before making its decision on how to handle the electronic monitoring program in the future. A New Orleans inspector general’s report on the program is expected to be completed in the spring.
The crime that sparked Monday’s meeting, a follow-up to a previous committee meeting, happened during the summer. A 13-year-old eastern New Orleans boy who wore an ankle monitor was arrested for allegedly killing a 58-year-old man in front of his Mid-City home during a robbery attempt on the afternoon of May 30. Since then, a 14-year-old boy who wore a malfunctioning ankle monitor wandered out of his allowed area unnoticed in early October, during which time he allegedly took part in two armed robberies in Uptown.
A joint investigation by Omnilink, the ankle bracelet vendor, and the Sheriff’s Office found that the device was not properly communicating with its monitoring software. A deputy assigned to monitor the bracelet failed to properly respond to an alert that it was no longer working, prompting Gusman to suspend the deputy for a day, the sheriff said on Monday.
Despite Gusman’s reassurances that the program now functions better, Councilwoman Susan Guidry said there needs to be more investigation to ensure the program deserves the money the city might allocate to it for 2013.
Chief Juvenile Court Judge Ernestine Gray asked the committee to consider that of the more than 200 youth who have been in the program, it’s only been a handful of participants who have allegedly committed crimes while they wore the ankle monitors.
“Please remember that as you make your decision. Nothing works 100 percent of the time,” Gray said, adding that ultimately the decision to do wrong is a personal choice.
“We need to be looking at the cases where there has been an issue, a loophole, and figure out what to do in those particular instances to tighten up the program as opposed to looking at cutting the program completely,” said Deputy Chief Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier.
Ultimately, Gusman said, data show that the program has been effective, and he is planning his 2013 proposed budget with the electronic monitoring program in place.
“It’s a good program” he said.