Hawkins judge asks for $18K for GPS, drug patches for indigent defendants

Jeff Bobo • Jul 16, 2019 at 7:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County commissioners found themselves in the position Monday of being asked either to pay $1,500 per month to help keep some defendants out of jail or face paying 10 times that amount to keep those same inmates in jail.

Sessions Judge Todd Ross told the county commission’s Budget Committee he had recently received notice that as of July 1 the state will pay only half the cost for GPS monitoring and drug patches for indigent defendants.

To make up the difference, Ross is asking for $18,000 annually from the county.

Years ago, the state started an indigency fund for interlock devices for people who were convicted of DUI, and a defendant’s court costs went into that fund.

That fund built up a surplus and was eventually used to also cover the cost of GPS monitors and drug patches (which indicate if the person wearing it has used drugs) for indigent defendants as well.

Generally there are 15 indigent defendants at any given time who are out of jail on the condition of wearing either a GPS monitor or drug patch.

“We've had that for a few years now, and up until July 1 the state covered all those costs,” Ross told commissioners. “As of July 1, the state will no longer cover 100 percent of the $200 per month cost. They’re only going to cover half of the cost, and they’re asking the counties to pay the other half. That amounts to $100 per person, per month.”

Ross noted that he sometimes makes GPS monitors or drug patches a condition of receiving bail.

He noted, for example, that the man accused of stalking a Food City employee earlier this year and making death threats was required to wear a GPS monitor that alerts the alleged victims if he comes within a certain distance of them.

Another example is a man who is currently free on bond on the condition of wearing a drug patch.

“He’s had it, he’s been out about a month and stayed clean, he’s getting a job, he’s got kids at home. He’s doing better than he probably ever has, but I’m going to have to put him back in jail because he can’t afford to pay for this patch, and that was my condition for him getting out.”

The amount Ross was requesting for the county is $18,000 per year, which would cover the cost of 15 people per month.

The alternative to allowing inmates out on bond with the drug patch or GPS requirement is keeping them in jail, which costs the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office $32.75 per day per inmate, or just about $1,000 per month per inmate, to house.

“I don’t know what else to do,” Ross said. “I’ve never had to come ask you guys for anything before other than just regular budget stuff. This is going to put a real wrench in the system if we don’t do something. ... If those 15 people who are out on these patches (or GPS) costing $1,500 per month are sitting in jail, which is where they’re going to be, it’s going to cost you a lot more than that. Sheriff Lawson will just be in here asking you for more money.”

Ross added, “It doesn’t just affect the ones who can’t pay for it. It wouldn’t be ethical for me to say, ‘If you can afford it, I’m going to let you out of jail on a GPS monitor. If you can’t afford it, you've got to stay in jail.’ Then we're discriminating based on their ability to pay.”

The Budget Committee didn’t make a decision Monday and will likely bring Ross’ request back up for consideration when it meets for another budget workshop on Aug. 1.

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