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An eye in the sky will be keeping tabs on two convicts sentenced to electronic monitoring under an experimental contract Niagara County signed last week.

Probation Director N. James DiCamillo said a Global Positioning System, or GPS, satellite will be used to monitor the movements of the individuals. Until now, electronic monitoring bracelets utilized telephone systems to keep track of people sentenced to what is in effect house arrest during certain hours.

The county signed a contract with Pro Tech Monitoring Inc. of Palm Harbor, Fla., to pay $11.50 to $14 per day of use for two GPS monitoring units.

As of last week, the county had 15 persons, including five juveniles, serving sentences via electronic monitoring. Only non-violent offenders are considered for the program. DiCamillo said under the current system, the person wears a bracelet with a small transmitter in it, and has to place a base unit on his telephone. If the person leaves his home at an unauthorized time, the bracelet transmits that fact to the phone unit. It places a call to the county's contractor, B.I. Inc. of Boulder, Colo.

That company then faxes the information to the Probation Department, which follows up on the case. If a violation of the conditions of the sentence is found, the person could be brought into court and resentenced to jail time.

The county pays $4 per person per day for that service; its bill for August was $1,810.

"(GPS) is more expensive than electronic monitoring, but for good reason," DiCamillo said. "Electronic monitoring lets us know they left their home. GPS lets us know where they went."

In the GPS system, the person still wears a bracelet, but also has to carry a pack that weighs 3 to 6 pounds. That's the transmitter the satellite picks up, 22,000 miles above the Earth. It relays the signal to Pro Tech if the person leaves an unauthorized area.

DiCamillo said more intense supervision could result from success with GPS. For example, he said a person such as a sex offender could be sentenced to stay away from certain areas, and the Probation Department would know if he went there.

In the future, he said the GPS system could allow his department to telephone victims who have court orders of protection against convicts to warn them that the suspect is approaching their homes.

During the first half of this year, the Probation Department oversaw 896 person-days of electronic monitoring. At an estimated daily cost of $200 a day to keep someone in jail or detention, the savings was $179,200, DiCamillo said.

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