Many judges in Washington state have assigned more people convicted of crimes or awaiting trial for charges to electronic home monitoring in an effort to create room in county jails during the pandemic.
Offenders are fitted with an electronic ankle bracelet under the monitoring program, KING-TV reported. The Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention then receives an alert if someone breaks the conditions of their detention, and notifies the offender, the court and often authorities.
However, an investigation by the television station has found that department employees, who are staffed Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., are not seeing violation alerts outside those hours. Caseworkers instead hear about violations the next business day.
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The delay in reporting led to a woman and her child being threatened and endangered after a man charged with domestic violence felony assault violated home monitoring in May, KING-TV reported. The man was not identified by the station to protect the woman and her child.
“We were deeply shocked, and we learned about it last week, frankly,” King County Superior Court presiding Judge Jim Rogers said, adding that he and other judges were never informed that it changed from a 24/7 monitoring system.
The number of people on electronic home monitoring has increased from 32 people in 2015 to 111 people in 2019, officials said. That number has increased even more since the pandemic with more than 200 people on electronic home monitoring.
Data from the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention shows dozens fitted with ankle bracelets have been charged or convicted of serious offenses, such as sex crimes, robbery, and assault.
“This is a huge problem for people who are depending on that to give them some sense of security,” said Mary Ellen Stone, executive director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center. “They’re letting everybody down. They’re letting victims down. They’re letting the community down.”
The department responded to the report Tuesday, saying there is no loophole and that it has never monitored alerts of violations 24/7.
“DAJD has never been staffed to manage this caseload of (electronic home detention) participants around the clock,” department spokesperson Noah Haglund said. “We are talking to our partners in the courts and the prosecuting attorney’s office about how a more real-time process might work on nights and weekends.”
Rogers disagreed with the assessment, and said King County judges in the meantime will no longer assign electronic home monitoring in cases that involve violence.
“We will not be using (electronic home detention) for violent crimes until it is in compliance with state law and otherwise working the way intended. We are working with stakeholders and appreciate the efforts of the executive branch and DAJD to get this right.”
King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles said the lack of 24/7 monitoring was “disturbing” and that she plans to bring the issue to the council on Wednesday during the first criminal justice budget briefing.
The Associated Press contributed to this article