Detention at home is a big saver

Alternative sentencing programs, including a home detention program run by the Sheriff’s Department that allows low-risk offenders to live at home and hold jobs, saved San Luis Obispo County more than $800,000 last year, a county official said.

Martin Basti, chief deputy of the San Luis Obispo County Jail, said those savings take into account what it would cost to otherwise incarcerate convicts, including meals, clothing and jail staffing.

“Especially with the downturn of the economy, if someone is facing a 180-day sentence, let’s say, they’d likely lose their job, and it could have a disastrous effect on the family,” Basti said.

About 180 offenders were granted home detention, which requires wearing an electronic bracelet that helps the authorities monitor their whereabouts, but which also allows them to work and live at home.

In another form of alternative sentencing, 613 eligible offenders participated in a work program that keeps them out of jail if they agree to job assignments with county agencies such as the parks or library system.

No violent criminals are allowed to participate in alternative sentencing, and there is a strict set of rules for participants — including not repeating any crimes.

While the program has existed for years, Basti said, it has become particularly effective and useful now when some families are in financial straits.

Alternative sentencing programs are common in counties statewide, and San Luis Obispo County has operated its program for many years.

Another goal is to keep people from choosing a life of crime — which sometimes happens when offenders leave jail and don’t have a job.

San Luis Obispo defense attorney Matt Guerrero said he has had clients who have benefited tremendously from the program.

“If people can still earn a living and be at home for their kids and provide for families who depend on them while trying to get their lives back on track, I think they’re much better off,” Guerrero said.

The alternative sentencing programs prevent increased populations in the County Jail, which has 525 inmates. That number has reached 600 at times, Basti said.

Basti said that participants must pay $30 a day to participate in home detention and keep in contact with a probation officer compared with $14 a day for alternative work, money which goes back into county coffers.

Rarely do participants in the program violate the rules or commit a new crime, Basti said, because if they do, they return to custody.“We have pretty tight criteria,” Basti said. “It seems to work well.”