DSS backs electronic monitoring

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 3, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin

Salisbury Post

Parents behind on child support may end up on house arrest under a new program being developed by the Rowan County Department of Social Services.

Child Support Supervisor Beth Berry said the Electronic Monitoring Program has been successful in other counties, including Forsyth, Moore, New Hanover, Pitt, Randolph and Wake. The program has not only saved the counties money, she said, it has also led to moderately greater collection rates.

Berry reviewed a handout describing how the program has worked in New Hanover, Pitt and Wake counties. In New Hanover County, the $11-per-day cost of electronic monitoring is significantly lower than the estimated $40-per-day cost of housing the delinquent parents in the local jail.

New Hanover also switches electronic services depending on individuals’ success. “If an individual has paid their support consistently over a three-month period,” the handout says, “the individual is moved to a lower level of monitoring.”

Berry said offenders on electronic monitoring, for example, could be placed on the less-restrictive voice verification system as they begin to make timely payments.

Pitt County, which started the program in January 2005, estimates that it costs $50 a day to house an inmate in jail compared to $15 a day for placing an offender under electronic house arrest. Officials there said they believe the electronic monitoring has assisted them greatly in collecting payments for child support.

Board Chairman Jeff Morris and Jim Sides, who represents the county commission on the board, attended a presentation on monitoring systems by Todd Edwards from Reliant Monitoring Services on Nov. 16 along with child support supervisors, sheriff’s department officers and other county officials.

Morris said the $8-to-$12-a-day cost of the electronic monitoring program is much cheaper than housing offenders in the Rowan County Jail. “This will save the county a tremendous amount of money,” he said.

Sides said the program would also help to alleviate the increasing problem of overcrowding at the jail.

Berry said Rowan child support supervisors take 130 parents to court every week for delinquency on payments. Many of these are repeat offenders, she said, and eventually end up being put in jail.

While the Electronic Monitoring Program would save the county money and alleviate overcrowding at the jail, Berry said, “Our intent is getting the money collected for the children.”

Sides said he was impressed with the flexibility of the various monitoring systems. For only $32 a day, for example, he said the global positioning system can track the whereabouts of an offender on a computer screen 24 hours a day.

The program can even be set up to alert officers if an offender goes to a certain location. “It fascinates me just what they can do with that,” he said.

Board member Carl Ford asked how far a parent has to fall behind before he or she is taken to court.

“It depends on the judge’s order,” Morris said.

Ford said he had talked to one person who was taken to court after a month while others go for three or four months without any action being taken.

Berry said child support supervisors can take a parent to court anytime a payment is delinquent by at least 30 days.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Director Sandra Wilkes reported that the board-sponsored Christmas party for foster children will be held Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Rowan Cooperative Extension Service building. At this point, she said 59 children and 44 foster parents plan to attend. This is down from last year’s 65 children and 52 parents in attendance, she said.

Wilkes attributed the lower attendance at this year’s Christmas party to fewer children being in foster care.

The goal of the department is to move foster children back into their biological homes or into a permanent adoptive home within one year of being placed in the program, she said.