Electronic home detention expected to reduce jail costs

By Stefanie Donahue

As the cost to operate Whatcom County Jail continues to climb, the city of Blaine is pursuing alternatives to housing inmates.

Based on a recommendation from city staff, Blaine City Council voted 6–0 on June 25 [in the absence of councilmember Alicia Rule] to approve an ordinance that will create an electronic home detention program to manage the jail population and reduce costs.

As part of the new program, the city will contract with Friendship Diversion Services, which provides alternative sentencing options – such as electronic home monitoring bracelets that track location and alcohol consumption – to cities across the state.

This comes two weeks after Blaine City Council voted 7–0 to authorize the city manager to enter into an agreement with Whatcom County for jail services. The contract requires the city to pay an additional $8 per day to house an inmate at Whatcom County Jail, among other new fees.

“I do have a vested interest in the court processes and doing what’s right for the city and the people,” said Blaine Municipal Court administrator Raylene King, who prepared the recommendation to city council. “We already know that Whatcom County voters have declined to build a new jail. We know it’s deteriorating … We need alternatives. We need to reduce costs.”

Prior to contracting Friendship Diversion Services, the city paid Whatcom County Jail for electronic home detention. The county charged $73 per day for use of a monitoring device, while Friendship Diversion Services charges a maximum $25 per day.

The monitoring bracelets can be used whether an individual is awaiting trial or has been convicted of a crime, but ultimately, it is up to the judge to decide, King said. The city of Blaine could use electronic home monitoring for a number of cases, she added, including Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and domestic violence.

Between 2014 to 2018, King said the city of Blaine averaged 37.5 domestic violence cases and a dozen DUI cases per year.

In Washington state, individuals who commit a violent offence, sex offense and drug offense, among other serious offenses, are not eligible for home detention.

“It seems like it saves considerable money and is more effective and lowers the risk,” said mayor Bonnie Onyon. “Rather than just having a no contact order, there’s actually something there that keeps track of them short of being in jail.”

“Which helps keep the family unit together,” councilmember Steve Lawrenson added.

Moving forward, Blaine City Council will need to approve a resolution to adopt standards for home detention, King said.

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