High-Tech Tools Help Offenders Move On
OMAHA (KPTM) â€” If you've never been in trouble with the law, what you don't know might surprise you. Everyday, high tech tools are helping people in Douglas County stay sober, and at the same time saving taxpayers money.
25â€“yearâ€“old Amber Barton never bargained for this. "It's a little scary and intimidating," she said.
But when Amber was faced with jail time last year because of a lifestyle using meth and marijuana, she realized she need to change. "I didn't have a job. I was just out there running around, not doing good things," Barton said.
Amber ended up in Adult Drug Court, in front of a special machine. "We all have, much like a fingerprint, a retinal scan that's personal to us," said Adult Drug Court Coordinator Paul Yakel.
The technology measures a person's eye movement relative to light, detecting any drug that affects the central nervous system. "What we can do is bring our clients in to the PassPoint machine on a regular, random basis throughout the week. It may require them into the office more frequently, but as a result, we can detect whether or not we need a hard urine sample from them," Yakel said.
Douglas County uses the PassPoint machine to test eligible defendants for both stimulants and depressants. "I'm really busy during the week, so I can just come down here and the machine takes 3â€“4 minutes if that," Amber said.
If adults like Amber pass a 12 to 18 month program, prosecutors will dismiss the felony charge against them. "It's an efficient, effective way of responding to the drug screening needs for a large volume of people like we have in Douglas County. It's smart on crime," Yakel said.
Smart because now only the people the machine suspects of being under the influence have to provide a urine sample for analysis. That's cut the Adult Drug Court's annual screening costs by more than half. "A good share of those inpiduals are out there not using, not clogging up the criminal justice system again, not getting a felony, not being sentenced, not needing attorneys, at home, working, employed, paying taxes," Yakel said.
It's not the only high tech tool helping to keep people out of jail and in the process saving Douglas County taxpayers thousands of dollars. "It provides the opportunity for us to start working with people, rather than just warehousing people," said Community Corrections Manager Michael Myers.
With the help of GPS satellite tracking, lowâ€“risk offenders actually serving their sentence can do so at home. "If this technology wasn't here today, I'd probably either still be staying here until they told me I could go on probation, and what not or I'd be sitting in county," said 20â€“yearâ€“old Bryan Lett.
Now Lett is free, so to speak, to get a job. "It means a lot. It means I get to go start up school again, start getting back into the workforce, getting back into my family life, taking care of my kids," he said.
House Arrest officers monitor his or any other offender's exact location via computer. "Probably to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year are saved over keeping people locked up in secure custody in the jail," Myers said.
Officers can even message anyone who strays out of line. "This is real time so whatever they do, we'll know in real time what's going on. If they're speeding on the Interstate in their car, this will tell us how fast they are going," said House Arrest Officer Jimmy Caldwell.
A similar device can detect through sweat on the skin if someone convicted of DUI or other alcoholâ€“related offenses has been drinking. "This particular unit once it's placed on the ankle, if they've been drinking, it will just send a test back to us as a positive. With the unit before, they would be tested three times a day, this they're tested 24/7," Caldwell said.
Anyone busted is sent back to jail. "All sorts of social implications happen as a result of incarceration and for the people that we can, that we screen very carefully so that we can safely manage, this technology is a godsend," Myers said.
Technology that gives thousands of people, who would otherwise be inmates, the power to improve their lives. "The key for me personally is my children. I just have a totally different life now and obviously you can't hang around with the same people and the same places. That's something that you need to change if you want to change your life and it can be done. It's hard. It takes a lot of work, but it can be done," Barton said.
Some of the technology has been around for years, other tools for only a few months. Still leaders say all are a vast improvement from what they were using before.