Although juvenile delinquency rates have decreased somewhat in recent years, nationwide statistics are still high - juvenile delinquent caseloads in 2004 were four times more than in 1960, according to the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
However, Texas has invested heavily to counteract juvenile crimes. In 2007, Gov. Rick Perry allocated $2.8 million to juvenile accountability programs in several counties, including Hale County, to improve services.
To combat its juvenile delinquency problem, Hale County implemented electronic GPS monitoring devices to track juvenile delinquents in real time, 24/7.
In May 2007, Hale County deployed an offender monitoring system from Omnilink Systems, a location-based services provider in Alpharetta, Ga., which utilizes GPS and cellular signals to zero in on offenders. The device, coupled with FocalPoint 2.0 software, lets probation officers keep tabs on juvenile delinquents and help keep them out of trouble.
Probation officers can assign various parameters, such as mobile inclusionary and exclusionary zones - places kids are and aren't allowed to be - and designate time frames when they are supposed to be at home or in school.
Eddie Subealdea, Hale County's chief probation officer, said his department uses the offender monitoring system to ensure that kids aren't violating court orders and curfew or ditching school. "Omnilink has a Web site that you can go to and track them," he said. "If you're at the computer, you know exactly where the kids are."
For example, if an offender burglarized a house on X Street and he or she is within 300 feet of that premise, a probation officer can be alerted immediately via e-mail or cell phone, at which point the delinquent could be taken into custody. In other cases, a juvenile might be warned to stay away from a location or find an alternate route to wherever he or she needs to go.
"You can set up how you want to do it," Subealdea said. "If the probation officers want to be notified immediately, the tracking center will call the officers and let them know on their cell phones. If the probation officer just wants to know of any violations by e-mail, then they can do that as well."
The one-piece device is easy to use and can be installed in as little as five minutes. Previously, slower landline tracking systems required probation officers to go to an offender's house, set up the unit, make sure it worked, and call the tracking center to ensure that it was up and running. With the new system, tracking begins once it has been activated and gives precise details, unlike landlines that only let probation officers know if the person is at home or within a certain range.
Subealdea said the system is hassle-free. "You put it on in the office and set it on the computer. And the minute the kids leave, it's tracking them."
In addition to receiving an eagle-eyed view on the children, which won over Subealdea, probation officers can also view the device's battery levels on their computers and notify kids that they need to charge the battery.
Currently 11 children from ages 12 to 16 have been ordered by the court to wear the devices. Their offenses vary from truancy to sexual assault, and they are tracked 24/7.
The initial cost was only $275 for the entire project, and it costs the probation department from $4.50 to $10 daily to monitor the children. However, the exact cost depends on how often a probation officer is alerted, Subealdea explained.
One benefit of the device is that it allows children to live somewhat normal lives as opposed to being detained when awaiting trial. "We've been able to put some of these kids on the GPS and let them stay at home and
still go to their normal school," said Subealdea. "The GPS has allowed us to keep them at home and keep them in their school districts." He said that spending as much as $10 per day on the tracking devices is still a savings compared with the $84-$112.50 they would otherwise be spending to keep the juveniles in a detention center.
Subealdea said most defendants' lawyers now request an offender monitoring system as the preferred alternative to sending children to detention. Because the technology is so accurate, it's already helping some delinquents with their cases. "We usually order kids on the GPS units for six months," said Subealdea. "If they comply with all of their conditions of probation during that time, we let them off." He said juveniles don't want to wear the devices and they wind up in detention facilities. "They think that's too juristic and then we have to take other measures."
As for the children who must learn the hard way and go to detention, Subealdea said once they are out, they do the right thing. "Some of those kids, they get on it and if they spend one or two days in detention, that's enough to get their attention," said Subealdea. "They come out, and they do what they have to with the monitor.