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The Hampton County jail may become a little less crowded, and more bad guys may get sent home or face alternative punishments, thanks to a new county fee.
With the county planning to charge municipalities $25 per inmate per day to house certain municipal prisoners beginning in January, towns are already looking for a cheaper way to deal with crime and punishment.
The Town of Hampton has begun sentencing more people to public service employment, or community service, when jail time is not mandatory. Community service can be sentenced by a town judge, and supervised by the town's public works department.
"Put them out there working, rather than sitting in the jail all day," said HPD Chief Perry McAlhaney. "Let them pick up trash, or cut grass. We're doing some of that now, and we're looking at doing a lot more of it."
Another option Hampton and other towns are considering is equipping offenders with GPS monitoring systems, commonly called ankle bracelets or ankle tracking devices.
GPS systems can be used for in-house arrests for sentenced offenders, or to monitor the movements of suspects out on bond waiting trial. GPS devices can also notify authorities if violent offenders come within a certain range of victims or witnesses.
The device is attached to a defendant's ankle and is water resistant. Some devices notify authorities within seconds of a violation.
The HPD, along with police from Yemassee, Varnville, Estill, and the Sheriff's Office, recently attended an informational meeting with a representative of Offender Management Services, one of several companies that offer this type of service.
But McAlhaney added that no decision has been made to use this type of device in Hampton.
"That is an option, but I don't know what the Mayor and Council will do," he added. "It's not up to the police department."
Varnville Police Chief Tyrone Smith also said that his agency was considering GPS and community service options, but that both matters would have to go before his Mayor and Council for approval.
The Town of Estill began considering the GPS option as early as July. During the Estill Town Council meeting on July 7, council listened to a presentation by Brady Copeland of ICU Monitoring, a GPS provider based in Rock Hill. He said with his company's device, judges could sentence defendants at no cost to taxpayers.
"It is a lot cheaper than going to jail," said Copeland with ICU monitoring, adding that it would cost the town $700 for an inmate that was sentenced to only 30 days.
The monitoring device costs $250 for installation and $85 a week to monitor it. All this is billed to the defendant and not the town or county.
ICU also does alcohol monitoring so defendants who are chronic offenders of crimes involving alcohol can have a breathalyzer test. A box is sometimes installed in their home that contains a breathalyzer test and a camera to verify the violator is taking the test and not someone else. The company randomly calls the offender and has them do a breathalyzer test at various times during various days.
Also if a person is a convicted child molester the monitoring system can alert the authorities and the school system if the offender comes too close to a school.
"It works anywhere in the county," said Copeland. "Every four seconds we know where they are."
Estill Police Chief Williams Garvin said the monitoring system would help with the gang problem.
"We can use this as gang control," said Copeland.
The 14th Solicitor's Office is already using GPS, on a Yemassee murder suspect who is currently out on bond and waiting trial in General Sessions Court.
The Estill council has made no final decision on the GPS option yet.
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