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Orange OKs home-confinement review

Orlando Sentinel

Orange County commissioners approved Tuesday an outside emergency review of its troubled home-confinement program, as two other internal investigations are nearing completion.

And as the number of people who remain in the program dwindled to 31 defendants Tuesday, county officials turned to an outside firm to help with its around-the-clock supervision of those who still remain.

In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel last week, Corrections Chief Michael Tidwell said since the program has come under fire "we've stepped up what we're doing."

"We're monitoring these folks 24 hours a day," he said. Tidwell compared that favorably to standard pre-trial release, which has become a popular alternative to confinement programs with judges and involves probation-like check-ins, but no electronic monitoring.

The increased supervision and reviews were launched after the Orlando Sentinel revealed that home-invasion defendant Bessman Okafor had potentially violated his home-confinement curfew numerous times, which was never reported to a judge.

During an unauthorized excursion Sept. 10, authorities say he shot three people, two of whom were slated to testify against him at trial. One, 19-year-old Alex Zaldivar, was killed.

On that date, records show that Okafor was out of his house for nearly five hours before, during and after the slaying.

Last month, Mayor Teresa Jacobs suspended the program and announced a "zero-tolerance" supervision of defendants who remained on home confinement.

Before that move, defendants were actively monitored during a 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. window. If curfew or other violations occurred overnight, corrections officials found out the next morning.

But under the stepped-up coverage, the county used overtime to make sure staff monitored them around the clock. The county recently hired 3M Electronic Monitoring to help supervise those still in the program, which lessened overtime costs. However, defendants now pay about $10 a day for the program.

But before any call is made on the future of home confinement, the mayor said she wants to see the reviews.

A pair of internal investigations are set to wrap up in two weeks. On Tuesday commissioners also agreed to spend $100,000 to hire Matrix Consulting Group, a firm that audited the Sheriff's Office in 2006.

The first phase of the Matrix study is expected to be done in 90 days. It would not only review home confinement but also the "the judiciary's criteria for placing individuals in the program," county records show. The rest of the audit would look at the county's entire Community Corrections Division, which has 100 employees and an annual $6.4 million budget.

"We need to make sure the whole justice system understands what these programs do," Jacobs said. "It's not just the jail. It's not just the judges. It's how they interface, and what decisions are made."

ddamron@tribuine.com or 407-420-5311. jeweiner@tribune.com or 407-420-5171.

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