Number of inmates released on electronic monitoring triples following bail ruling

Via SF Examiner |Joshua Sabatini

Kenneth Humphrey shows off his electronic monitoring device to members of the media following his release on bail after being held in custody for nearly one year outside the SF Sheriff’s Department’s Community Division facility on Wednesday, May 9, 2018.

The number of people released from jail on electronic monitoring has tripled since the landmark Humphrey ruling last year forced courts to consider a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail amounts along with non-monetary alternatives to incarceration.

Before the appellate court’s January 2018 ruling, the number of defendants awaiting their day in court out of jail on electronic monitoring bracelets was about 100 every month. Since the ruling, the numbers have climbed monthly to about 300 a month.

In addition to the court ruling, Sheriff Vicki Hennessy did away with fees charged to inmates using the devices, which were criticized as unfair to the poor.

According to Hennessy’s February newsletter, electronic monitoring cases increased 308 percent from 178 in 2017 to 725 in 2018 this past year. In April 2018 the department “converted its electronic monitoring unit to a 24/7 operation.”

The Sheriff’s Department presented the electronic monitoring data Wednesday at a Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee hearing on a proposal to extend an existing electronic monitoring contract with Leaders in Community Alternatives, Inc. for an additional three months, to end on July 31. The extension would bring the total contract, which began on May 1, 2014, to $2.4 million.

The department is expected to enter into a contract with a different company on Aug. 1, following a competitive bidding process.

The cost of electronic monitoring has increased from $20,000 a month to about $120,000 a month due to increased use and abolishment of the fees, according to the budget analyst report.

Electronic monitoring is one of the strategies The City is using to reduce the jail population and treat those caught up in the justice system more humanely.

The Health Commission on Tuesday adopted a resolution to officially recognize incarceration as a public health issue and to have Department of Public Health create a plan building on past efforts to reduce the jail population, including funding needs.

“Each experience of being incarcerated is physically and psychologically traumatic, with lasting impact on individuals, their families, communities, and especially to pregnant mothers,” the resolution reads.

It also “recognizes the adverse childhood experiences and social inequities, such as institutional racism, leads to disproportionate involvement of people of color throughout the justice system” and that “criminalization of homelessness and poverty, substance use disorders, and mental illness leads to incarceration.”

“Jails are not healing environments, and we know that incarceration can have a lasting traumatic effect,” said Dr. Edward Chow, Health Commission president, in a statement. “At the same time, we know that criminalization of homelessness and poverty, substance use disorders, and mental illness leads to incarceration. That paradox tells us that people are not getting the help they need, and we can do better.”

The average daily jail population increased 3 percent in 2018 from 1,263 to 1,295, according to Hennessy’s newsletter.

About 40 percent of those in the jail are homeless or marginally housed and transitional age youth are 17 percent of the jail population, according to the resolution. Thirty-eight percent of those booked at the jail are black, and of those who remain in jail about 50 percent are black, even though The City’s black population is only about 5 percent.

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