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Electronic monitoring can offer less restrictive, cheaper alternative to juvenile placement

An electronic ankle monitor is modeled recently by a member of law enforcement staff at the Kandiyohi County Jail in Willmar. The device sends information about the wearer to a remote monitoring center. Kandiyohi County Family Services has used the monitors in a handful of juvenile cases recently as an alternative to placement outside the home. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR — An ankle bracelet that detects where a person is at a given time and alerts authorities when the person isn’t home when he should be is proving to be a cost-effective alternative for some juveniles who otherwise may be placed outside the home.

Kandiyohi County has utilized the new option with five kids since this spring with good success, said Kathy Nelson, a supervisor with the county Family Services Department.

At a cost of about $7 a day — compared to a couple hundred dollars a day for some out-of-home placement treatment centers and shelters — electronic home monitoring is a “much less restrictive alternative and cheaper for the county,” said Nelson.

“This is another tool in our tool belt,” she told the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners during a recent report.

But Nelson cautions that electronic home monitoring should only be used in limited circumstances and needs to be a good fit for the child and the child’s parents.

“It has to be the right child with parents who are willing to hold the child accountable,” said Nelson.

Electronic monitoring would be used for kids ages 12 to 18.

At this point it can be used only under a court order and typically it’s been used for juveniles who have had minor run-ins with the law and have committed misdemeanors or gross misdemeanors.

With the early success, Nelson said it’s possible electronic monitoring may be used in the future for kids who have serious truancy issues and want to avoid further consequences that may include being removed from the home and placed in a shelter.

With electronic monitoring, Nelson said participants would remain in their parents’ homes and be allowed to go to school and any other allowed activity but must return home by a set time. If participants fail to return by curfew, that information will automatically be transmitted through an electronic signal from the ankle bracelet to the law enforcement center.

Police would be notified and could pick up the child, who would likely face additional consequences.

The system “makes them stay home,” said Nelson. “It’ll help them be held accountable.”

To be eligible, children must participate in a pre-placement screening.

In one case, electronic monitoring was used after a child had returned home after finishing a stint with out-of-home placement, which helped keep the child on track during the transition back home.

Nelson said she believes a few other counties are using electronic monitoring in lieu of foster care, but the idea to use it here was the result of social workers trying to think of new options that would be effective and less expensive.

“It kind of landed in our lap one day,” she said, adding that local law enforcement has been good partners with the county to implement the program, which includes a $30 hook-up fee for the bracelet.

Because parents with financial means are required to pay the cost of their child’s foster care, the commissioners amended the county policy to state that any costs associated with electronic home monitoring also be paid for by parents, based on their ability to pay.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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