‘House arrest’ prisoners still being monitored

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Inmates of the house arrest program in Lincoln County are stillbeing monitored and supervised, despite concerns that the programmay have expired July 1.

John Purser, who supervises the Lincoln County Probation andParole Office, said corrections officers will continue to do theirjobs until they receive orders to stop.

“Every indication that I got is that we are to continue normaloperations until the legislature does its thing,” he said. “Westill get reports on (the inmates) every day and supervisethem.”

Currently, the Lincoln County office is only supervising ninehouse arrest inmates, he said.

“Usually we run anywhere from 18 to 30,” he said. “That willprobably pick back up, I guess, once they get this straightened upin the legislature.”

The nine inmates in the local program are all non-violentoffenders and mostly convicted for bad checks or driving under theinfluence, Purser said.

A question of whether the house arrest program was reauthorizedduring the last legislative session is being debated amonglawmakers, but all agree the Senate’s oversight on approving HouseBill 956 has stalled the program’s ability to collect the $50 feeinmates in the program are required to pay monthly.

According to Nic Lott, a spokesman for the MississippiDepartment of Corrections, there has been some confusion in thepublic and media about the legislature’s mistake.

The house arrest program itself was never in jeopardy, and thebill reapproving it was passed, he said.

Lott said he felt the confusion resulted from two separate housearrest bills being before the legislature for approval, one on theprogram itself and one on the monthly fee system.

“The only provision that was not voted on is the provision thatallows us to collect these monthly fees,” Lott said. “There wasnever any doubt that those under house arrest would bemonitored.”

House Corrections Committee Chairman Bennett Malone, D-Carthage,disagrees, however.

“There is a legal question,” he said. “Some say we have theauthority to continue the program, but I believe House Bill 956 isthe bill that would have done that. In my opinion, the program doesnot legally exist right now.”

Malone said he has been able to locate another piece oflegislation that would have reapproved the program.

“I really don’t think that we’ve got one,” he said. “I justdon’t believe that it exists.”

Malone said he has requested Gov. Haley Barbour call a specialsession to reauthorize the program in its entirety.

“It would take just about an hour to decide this problem,” hesaid. “It’s a non-controversial issue.”

The governor has resisted calling a special session because heis concerned legislators may try to bring up Medicaid during thesession, Malone said.

“I just don’t see how that would be possible,” he said. “All theresearch we’ve done has said there is no way the two can be tiedtogether.”

Inmates in the house arrest program pay $50 monthly to stayunder intensive supervision, but are allowed to work. Under housearrest, inmates are required to stay at home at all times, exceptwhen going to their job, attending school or performing communityservice, Lott said. They are also responsible for the cost of theelectronic monitoring equipment and the repair of that equipment ifdamaged.

The fee system expired July 1 because House Bill 956 was notpassed, he said.

With approximately 1,200 inmates statewide in the program notpaying the fees, MDOC is losing approximately $65,000 a month.

“The money goes into the general fund for the department,” hesaid. “I can’t say what impact it will have on the budget. This isthe first month that it hasn’t been collected.”

The fees could still be collected for July if the legislaturereapproves the program this month, he said.