Judges have concerns about home confinement

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Two Lawrence County judges said while home confinement for non-violent offenders can work in limited circumstances, local officials should look at other ways to reduce the inmate population at the Lawrence County Jail.

Earlier this week, Lawrence County Sheriff Tim Sexton sent a letter to the Lawrence County Commission, suggesting more thought be given to home confinement as a way of reducing overcrowding at the Lawrence County Jail, which often forces him to send inmates to jails in other counties. Housing inmates out of county is often done at additional expense.

In the letter, he said it could be an option for certain non-violent offenders. He asked if the county would be willing to allocate $10,000 to help pay for home confinement for indigent convicts. Commissioners said they may be willing to consider the idea but want to talk to the county’s judges to get their thoughts on home confinement and determine if they are willing to use it more than they do now.

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“It’s not the answer to the problems we have here and to be honest, I’m not high on home incarceration,” Ironton Municipal Court Judge O. Clark Collins said.

Collins said allowing someone, even a non-violent offender, to stay home and serve his or her punishment is not much of a deterrent to crime, which is one of a judge’s primary considerations.

Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Charles Cooper

agreed. He said jail sentences are meant to be a deterrent

to and punishment for crime. When someone is allowed to serve their sentence on home confinement “the lessons are lost when you do that,” he said.

Cooper said one concern he has with home confinement is that public sentiment is usually against it.

“Most of the studies I’ve seen show most of the people in the general public don’t view it as much of a penalty to see someone sitting in their own home and watching their own television set,” Cooper said.

Cooper said he is willing to view home confinement as a portion of a sentence, but not the entire sentence.

Collins said although he has used home confinement, he orders it as “a last resort” for very minor offenses and only for those who can afford to pay the supervisory costs associated with it. He is more favorable to the idea of allowing non-violent offenders to do community service to work off some of their jail time.

Collins said he does not approve of setting aside more county money to pay for the system. He said home confinement should only be used for those who can afford the cost of being on it.

Lawrence County Municipal Court Judge Donald Capper was out of town and not available for comment.