Save money: Release Palm Beach County prisoners?

By Juan Carlos Fanjul
Posted by Rachel Leigh

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX) - Palm Beach County needs to cut millions in spending. So, how do you feel about letting some prisoners loose with ankle monitors?

It's cheaper: It costs big money to lock people up. Commissioners asked the sheriff Tuesday to look at one possible way of slashing those costs.

Putting fewer inmates in jail behind bars, and putting them on house arrest, instead, could help save the county money.

At least one county commissioner thinks that's part of the answer to our budget woes. "The thing is there are many non-violent people, people who should not be incarcerated, and cost a lot of money," stated Burt Aaronson.

The Palm Beach County sheriff is asking for a $35 million budget increase in 2009. And, as commissioners look for ways to save money, the sheriff is cautioning them not to cut too deeply into his budget request. "I can't go to sleep at night and think that I am not gonna be able to send people to help people in need in a timely fashion or follow up on cases."

The sheriff's office says it costs about $125 a day to keep an inmate locked up in the county jail.

Commissioners urged the sheriff to release some inmates on house arrest by strapping ankle monitors on them to give the cash-strapped county a little budget relief in this tight economy.

Jeff Koons, Palm Beach County commissioner, explained, "With the property tax cutbacks, we don't have sufficient dollars to be able to carry those people in the jail. The ones who might be released would be certain non-violent inmates, such as those arrested for traffic infractions - like driving with a suspended license."

Part of the savings would come from medical costs, because - if they're in the jail - the county pays the cost of their medical care. But, if they're out on an ankle monitor, the inmate would have to reach into his own wallet to pay for a trip to the doctor.

This is not a done deal.

According to a sheriff's spokesperson, a judge makes the decision about which inmates can be released on ankle monitors. It's not up to the sheriff. So, the next step is for the sheriff, the state attorney and the chief judge to meet to see if they can come up with a workable plan.