County switches house arrest ankle monitor vendor after frequent equipment problems

The bracelets for monitoring house arrest offenders for most of Johnson County have been fraught with equipment breakdowns, service disruptions and system crashes the past couple of years – so much so that Thursday the county commission decided to change vendors.

The decision was on the advice of Corrections Director Robert Sullivan, who documented months of problems with AMS (Alcohol Monitoring Systems) products that included numerous crashes during which participants’ whereabouts could not be monitored in real time. In other instances, house arrest staff found that software did not catch cases where offenders had tampered with the equipment.

The county house arrest program is the preferred provider for Overland Park, Lenexa and Olathe municipal courts as well as county district court. House arrest is also used as an alternative sentencing form for juveniles or as a condition of probation. For the past two years an average of 400 people a day have been on house arrest. Adult offenders pay fees that range from $2 to $14 a day to be on the program.

The most frequent problem with the bracelets has involved the charging, battery life and quality of the plastics they’re made of, Sullivan said. Because of frequent battery charging problems and breakage, house arrest offenders have been required to make hundreds of trips to Gardner to exchange their bracelets. In 2017, this happened 303 times and in 2018, 251 times.

Even though AMS has been working on the issues, there have been 57 failures since the beginning of this year – an unacceptable number that is time consuming and costly for house arrest staff, Sullivan said.

The system crashes and facial matching software problems have been less frequent, but no less concerning. Last year, there were seven service disruptions during which house arrestees could not be monitored in real time. That happened on May 29, June 1, June 22 and 23, July 25, September 26 and November 30. No data was lost during those times, but it did delay staff response to non compliances, Sullivan said.

The facial matching systems also proved to be a problem. When a person begins the house arrest program, his or her picture is saved into the system. The alcohol monitoring program calls for the offender to blow into a straw throughout the day while a picture is being taken. Software is supposed to catch any tampering or facial matching problems.

However the house arrest staff found that in several instances, offenders did tamper with the equipment and it was not noticed by the software, Sullivan said. Faces were partially covered in some cases, yet the system gave them a pass.

In addition to the equipment failures, the county has not been happy with AMS progress on integrating its tech system and with the responsiveness to supplying equipment such as those alcohol blowing straws, Sullivan said. Although that and other equipment is supposed to be supplied quarterly and is included in the contract, the county found itself having to request the supplies because they were not automatically shipped, he said.

With little discussion, commissioners unanimously voted to switch to BI, Inc., a Boulder, Colo. company. The contract for $725,000 will run one year, with options to renew for four additional one-year periods.