CANTON — Concerns over meeting state-mandated milestones in a $196,596 federally funded Alternatives to Incarceration grant due to the new state bail reform could result in the dissolving of a two-year-old electronic home monitoring program through the St. Lawrence County Probation Department.
But Probation Director Timothy P. LePage said there is still hope.
Mr. LePage raised his concerns during the County Operations Committee Meeting on Monday night, where he told lawmakers that under the new bail reform, cashless bail, which aims to reduce the number of people held in pre-trial detention because they are unable to make bail, will make it difficult to reach a series of state-mandated performance milestones required for the $196,596 issued by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, which leases 39 electronic devices that monitors eligible defendants.
“If courts aren’t allowed to use home monitoring, if they’re not allowed to release them under probation supervision, let alone home monitoring, I just don’t see us hitting those milestones,” Mr. LePage told the Times following Monday night’s meeting. “So that’s what made me concerned to go to the board and say, ‘Do we want to keep this grant or do we want to look at doing away with it?’ Then the state called me a few days later and said, ‘We don’t want you to lose this money. Let’s rework the grant.’ So we are waiting for a call back from the state in the next day or two to work about another program.”
That grant is renewable every year for up to five years and the county began receiving it in the start of 2018.
“It was something we had to do away with about 10 years ago, so it was a great way to bring it back to the county without the county having to foot the expense,” Mr. LePage said. “So it was great two years ago and it seemed to work well.”
The grant money pays for a singular probation officer to run the electronic home-monitoring program, including equipment, salary, benefits, and the like, Mr. LePage said.
To run the program without the grant funding, for just the quarter, with just the salary, benefits and the two hours on call that the employee gets for carrying the cellphone around after hours and dealing with any after-hours issues, the county would be on the hook for about $20,000, he told law makers.
Sheriff Brooks J. Bigwarfe told lawmakers that if the county were to drop the program, there would be an additional four or five inmates added to the jail population, which is currently at 80, but there would be medical and food costs with that.
“Out of 80, we have 21 sentenced inmates in our facility,” Sheriff Bigwarfe said. “Which is a really low number for sentenced. So you have only a quarter sentenced in the facility right now, all the rest are parolees, or people waiting for trials.”
According to a report given to county legislators, the Probation Department, under the Electronic Monitoring-Budget Term Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2020, has five annual performance milestone targets in order to receive state reimbursement, those being 328 defendants interviewed for a total state reimbursement rate of $41,656 and 328 risk/needs assessments completed for $67,240, 45 defendants released on electronic home monitoring for $40,315.50, 30 electric monitoring mid-point (30 day) completion for $22,384 and 25 electronic monitoring successful completion for $25,000, reaching the total of $196,596.
According to the 2019 year-to-date report, 353 defendants were interviewed, 36 were released, 23 reached 60 day completion and 31 had successful completion.
The 2019 year-to-date actual amounts reached was $84,945.55 for revenue total, $97,706.54 for expense total, with a grand total of $12,760.99. That differed from the first year of the program, when the revenue total was $95,908.44, the expense total was $95,341.30, with a grand total of $567.14
“If we don’t hit the milestones, we don’t get the money and with cashless bail, nobody is going to be in jail anymore, everyone is going to be released, so we’re not going to be able to have the opportunity to do our interviews and screens,” Mr. LePage said. “We hit the milestones (in 2019) to where we covered all the costs of the program and now it is just this cashless bail that has us concerned.”
On Nov. 7, Ogdensburg City Court sent probation 25 desk appearance tickets, Mr. LePage said.
“Of those, we completed 16 partial applications and of those, we were only able to contact five defendants,” he said. “So it’s kind of scary that we’ve done it for almost two months and only five people have gotten back to us. The milestone for electronic home monitoring to reach to be reimbursed is 200 for the whole year, but for one of the biggest courts, where we are only able to generate five, it’s scary.”
How do you get 200 defendants to cooperate with interviews in a year, if they aren’t housed in jail, where probation officers have access to them, Mr. LePage asked.
“So there are a lot of questions to be answered,” Mr. LePage said. “Hopefully we will get some answers this week and we’ll know what we’re doing.”