Sheriff wants expansion of house arrest program

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Facing jail overcrowding and millions of taxpayer dollars spent to house inmates in other states, Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia launched a pilot program that offered the option of "house arrest" to certain criminals.

The pilot program ends on Feb. 28 and Garcia told Local 2 Investigates he wants to expand the program.

"Many sheriff's offices have comparable programs," Garcia said. "This becomes an option between the judge and I to continue to punish them but do it in a different and more contemporary way."

Garcia said this option is only given to low-level, non-violent offenders who've been convicted of misdemeanor crimes. Garcia added "house arrest" is only available for those sentenced to time in county jail, not prison or state jail. Garcia also pointed out a judge has final say as to who is given this option. Garcia said those in the program are monitored 24 hours a day via a GPS device secured to their ankles.

Garcia also said he believes this option is a cost-saving measure for taxpayers. According to the Sheriff's Office, it costs an average of $40 to $45 a day to house an inmate in the general population of the jail. The Sheriff's Office reports daily costs for inmates receiving medication for medical or mental health issues are between $65 and $70. The daily costs for seriously ill inmates range from $230 to $250. The Sheriff's Office estimates the cost of GPS monitoring of someone on "house arrest" is between $5 and $9 a day.

"It's a gift. It's definitely a gift. I feel like I'm blessed," said Jahcov Johnson, who is serving house arrest after pleading guilty to a charge of unlawfully carrying a weapon.

Local 2 Investigates visited Johnson at his home.

"You know, I get to eat my own food, I get to lay in my own bed, I get to sit up with my son and play games," Johnson said.

Johnson goes by the name "Scoop" and is a member of the rap group Thug Mafia. Johnson said house arrest allows him to continue recording his music, caring for his son and his mother.

"This gives people another chance to keep living their lives and doing what they normally need to do," Johnson said.

Johnson has more than 30 days left on his sentence.

"Are you going to be good after this?" Local 2 Investigator Robert Arnold asked.

"Definitely, definitely. No more trouble," said Johnson.

A total of 16 people were placed under house arrest when the program began. The Sheriff's Office reports two of those people were sent back to jail for failing to keep their ankle monitoring bracelets fully charged.

"As something as simple as that, I'm not going to tolerate it," Garcia said.

Garcia said the two individuals were given several warnings that the battery level on their monitoring bracelets was approaching 50 percent. Garcia said when these individuals did not follow orders to charge their bracelets, they were arrested and sent back to jail to complete their sentences. Sheriff's officials can remotely monitor the battery levels on the bracelets and Garcia said battery levels are never allowed to dip below a 50 percent charge.

"We're definitely in favor of doing this," said Earl Musick, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association. "There is no link between non-violent offenders and a danger to community by them serving their sentences at home."

A representative for Harris County Judge Ed Emmett's told Local 2 he is also in favor of this type of program.

However, the president of the Houston Police Officers' Union, Ray Hunt, said he has concerns about who is offered this option.

"This should only be given to first-time offenders," said Hunt, who pointed out some people on the program have prior convictions.

Hunt said he also disagrees with giving the option of "house arrest" for any type of weapons charge.

"Sometimes judges, prosecutors and police officers differ on the word 'violent,'" Hunt said. "Just because someone commits a theft doesn't mean some level of violence wasn't involved."

Garcia plans to speak with Harris County officials about expanding the program to include more offenders once the pilot program ends next month.

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