Four years ago, George Humphries got busted by Spokane police for growing marijuana.
This year, he got busted again for the same crime. Instead of spending up to a year in jail, Humphries got a break - getting outfitted with a tamper-resistant ankle bracelet that lets him serve his 9-month sentence at home.
He’s one of about 25 adults in Spokane County taking part in electronic home monitoring.
The 43-year-old Humphries avoided jail time because he has a steady job and is a single father raising two children.
Spokane County commissioners say they’re looking at putting more people like Humphries on home monitoring in the future.
That interest has nothing to do with turning soft on crime. Commissioners have discovered that running both the county jail and Geiger Corrections Center is costing too much money.
The costs of keeping one person behind bars at the Spokane County Jail is roughly $50 per day. Taking that prisoner out to Geiger Corrections Center reduces the county’s cost to $35 a day, said Marshall Farnell, the county’s administrative services director.
Those like Humphries enjoying “privileged containment” - the legal term for electronic home monitoring - have to pay $13 a day for that option.
Commissioners meeting with law enforcement budget planners last week said they’d like to limit the jail’s population next year to 460 inmates.
The jail, most of this year, has had 650 inmates - some of them serving time for convictions, others awaiting trials.
If the county caps the jail population at 460 people, many nonviolent and less dangerous offenders will have to move either to Geiger Corrections Center or be offered home monitoring.
In Humphries’ case, his defense attorney made the suggestion after consulting with deputy prosecutors.
Noting that he has strong ties to the community, a good-paying job and no drug abuse problem, they requested home monitoring from Superior Court Judge James Murphy.
Murphy agreed. But county law enforcement officials say that not every judge feels the same way, with some judges less inclined to offer home monitoring except in unusual cases.
“It’s often approved because of the need to take care of someone at home, like an elderly adult,” said Don McConanhy, manager of Spokane County’s home monitoring program.
Sometimes, medical problems make home monitoring the best choice.
“One defendant who had the AIDS virus was on home monitoring for several months,” said McConanhy.
The $13 per day charge covers the equipment costs and salaries of the staff operating the equipment.
“Basically, this is a way for me to buy some freedom,” said Humphries, one month into his sentence.
“I’m not going to have any problems. This also has me working more hours than usual at my job. I need the money, and my boss loves it,” said Humphries, who works for a construction company.
He’s also paying off $6,000 in fines and court costs.
Any attempt to remove the ankle bracelet sets off an alarm at the Geiger office where a computer keeps track of every person on home monitoring.
That computer has recently been upgraded and can handle up to 500 home detainees at one time.
McConanhy and other county officials aren’t sure how many more people should be added to Spokane’s home monitoring program.
“I just know we can operate safely with more people than we have now,” McConanhy said.
But putting more people into the home monitoring program won’t be easy, say prosecutors and some Spokane County judges.
State laws don’t allow home monitoring for anyone convicted of a violent crime, including domestic violence assaults or harassment.
Many prosecutors don’t consider home monitoring a good option when an offender has a history of drug or alcohol abuse, said District Court Judge Sara Derr.
“Putting someone with that problem back in their home environment just leaves them tempted to repeat the behavior that got them in trouble in the first place,” said Derr.
Prosecutors also oppose home monitoring for offenders with a lengthy criminal history or those who’ve missed court dates or violated their probations.
That doesn’t leave a lot of other likely users, said county Deputy Prosecutor Kathryn Lee.
“It’s possible it would be a good choice for those involved in theft, forgery or other property crimes,” said Lee.
Drug offenders - like drunken drivers - are people who tend not to use home monitoring effectively, she said.
The other problem is that the cost of home monitoring eliminates hundreds of inmates who can’t afford the daily fee, Lee noted.
“It’s not that cheap, and we have a lot of defendants in this county who are poor,” she said.
In addition to adults on home monitoring, several juvenile detainees also use the system. Typically, courts don’t require they pay the daily cost.
Another 60 or so people are hooked up to Spokane’s home monitoring computer from neighboring counties, including Kootenai and Whitman.
Those users pay a $3 fee per day to Spokane County to cover costs.
Home monitoring, despite the fees paid by its users, isn’t a cheap fix. For every 20 inmates on home monitoring, the county needs one probation officer to ensure they’re complying with their sentence and restrictions.
Probation officers file a weekly schedule that makes sure when prisoners are free to leave their home, and when they must be within beeping range of the home monitor.
If the bracelet is removed or breaks, or if a prisoner wanders more than 150 feet from a home beacon, the system sets off an alert.
Probation officers then respond, driving to the prisoner’s house to find out what happened.
Probation officers also make unannounced visits to administer drug or alcohol tests. Any violation revokes home monitoring and puts the person in jail to finish his sentence.
County Sheriff’s Capt. Jim Hill told commissioners this past week his office - which runs the county jail - will help judges by devising a system of classifying offenders or those held in jail pending trial.
The goal would be early evaluation of prisoners, right after arrest, to decide which are candidates for home monitoring.
“That system would be helpful,” said Superior Court Judge Robert Austin.
“Home monitoring is just a tool, and it’s not appropriate for everyone. The more information judges get about a person’s circumstances, the better we can decide if it’s right for them.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo; Graphic: Monitoring prisoners at home