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Baltimore County eliminates fees for people on home detention

Baltimore County has eliminated fees for people on home detention, which can cost hundreds of dollars monthly for those in the program.

County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. announced the change Monday, saying the coronavirus pandemic has underscored the financial burden of the fees.

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Maryland jury trials are suspended until April because of the pandemic. County officials said people are spending longer on home detention because of court delays.

In announcing the elimination of fees, Olszewski, a Democrat, said it is “an issue of simple fairness.” He said most of the people on home detention “are individuals not convicted and awaiting adjudication of non-violent crime charges.”

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“Expensive home monitoring fees create unnecessary impediments, and the elimination of home monitoring fees will better allow these residents to support themselves and their families,” Olszewski said in a statement.

During the pandemic, the county has seen a large increase in total fees paid by people on home detention. It collected more than $118,000 in such fees during the fiscal year that ended June 30.

That was up more than 30% from the previous fiscal year, when the fees totaled about $89,000 — an increase county officials attribute in part to pandemic-related court delays.

People in the county’s program were charged $75 per week — of which $15 was a security deposit to be returned to them — plus a one-time fee of $34 for drug testing and an ankle bracelet, according to the county corrections department.

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As of Monday, there were 92 people in the home detention program, according to figures provided by the county. Of those, 87 were awaiting trial and five had been sentenced for crimes.

The county will absorb the costs that were paid by people on home detention, Olszewski spokesman Sean Naron said.

The fees were officially eliminated Friday.

Public defenders in Maryland applauded the move.

The change “is very welcome news,” Deputy District Public Defender for Baltimore County Gayle Robinson said in a statement provided by the state public defender’s office.

“It acknowledges the undue financial hardships our clients face in trying to pay these fees to get out of jail and stay out of jail,” Robinson said.

Robinson said that most people awaiting trial “should not require home detention for their release, but these resources should be available to judges in all cases regardless of the person’s income.”

Maryland Public Defender Paul DeWolfe said other jurisdictions should follow the county’s “lead in providing tools for pretrial release without imposing inappropriate and unjust costs on people awaiting trial.”

“These costs have been particularly egregious with COVID, which has delayed trial dates and made jails especially dangerous,” DeWolfe said.

The county started its Home Detention Unit in 1988. It currently costs about $538,000 a year to administer. The Olszewski administration said it would cost more than $3 million annually to house home-detention defendants at the Towson jail.

For more than a decade, the county has contracted with Sentinel Offender Services to provide GPS monitoring for the program.

The county has previously waived home-detention fees in certain circumstances, including for juveniles and people with disabilities, officials said.

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