About twice a month, county employees monitor a GPS signal or check homes, family and friends, trying to track down a convicted criminal who skipped out on work or left home when not allowed.

In the cases, offenders who violated the rules of their home detention or work release sentences were caught buying or selling drugs. So officials know what can happen if they allow someone to break the rules even once.

The county currently oversees about 85 people on home detention and about 60 on work release. Offenders serving time in a work release program or on home detention should be spending time at only two locations: home or the work release center and work.

Story continues below gallery

Any other side trips, such as the doctor’s office or grocery store, need to be scheduled in advance or approved by a community corrections officer. But that doesn’t mean offenders always play by the rules.

About a third of people in the programs break the rules and don’t complete their sentence. It’s also possible that some people on work release veer off course and don’t get caught, community corrections director Albert Hessman said.

In December, an Indianapolis man who was on home detention in Marion County drove to Greenwood to buy drugs then shot another man in the face. Another Indianapolis man was arrested on charges of selling drugs out of his Marion County home while on home detention, and the drugs were linked to the death of a Center Grove area teen.

Work release and home detention typically are used as an alternative to jail or prison for people who are committing nonviolent crimes, such as theft, operating while intoxicated and drug possession. The programs give an offender the chance to continue working and be productive while serving a sentence.

And with changes to the state’s criminal code, officials expect the programs to grow in the near future.

Offenders on work release are at the center any time they aren’t at work. Supervisors at work verify attendance, and community corrections staff members conduct random checks. People on home detention can stay at home, but they’re hooked up with GPS monitoring, which constantly reports their location back to the office.

If they break those rules by going out of their approved zones or not returning to the work release center at the end of a shift, they can expect to be sent back to the jail, Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper said.

Hessman said, “Just because they’re on a program doesn’t mean they’re going to be honest, upright, upstanding citizens. There are people who follow it well and do great on it. And there are people who don’t.”

State lawmakers changed Indiana’s criminal code to reclassify several crimes, lower penalties on some felonies and reduce the population in state prisons by requiring county jails to house offenders convicted of the lowest-level felonies. Statewide that is expected to push more people to county jails and require counties to consider alternative sentencing, such as work release, home detention and probation, more often.

Enrollment in Johnson County programs hasn’t spiked yet, but it’s still too early to determine what effect the new legislation might have. Hessman said he expects both programs could see increased numbers in the next few years. At times, the county has had as many as 120 people on home detention and reached the maximum capacity of 100 at the work release center.

Cooper isn’t sure a sharp increase will happen, since only certain people convicted of crimes are eligible for either program. Home detention or work release is offered only to Johnson County residents who have stable employment, he said. Offenders pay a fee of about $20 per day to cover the cost of monitoring and drug testing, so they need to be working in order to ensure they can pay the fees, he said.

Many offenders in the programs are productive citizens by day but then get involved in something after hours, like drinking or drugs that gets them in trouble, Cooper said. Putting them in the community corrections programs allows them to continue to work their jobs, while restricting their access to whatever got them in trouble, he said.

Work is the only location that offenders in home detention or work release are approved to go to daily, Hessman said. They have to submit their work schedule and route they take to work. If they want to go anywhere else, those details have to be submitted in advance, too. A person on the program can’t just go out to lunch with co-workers, swing by the grocery store on the way home or stop by a friend’s house for a few minutes, Hessman said.

“They’re not permitted any of that. They have to provide us a schedule of their work times. They do that daily and weekly,” Hessman said. “Everything they do has to be approved and monitored, and we have field officers that are out and will go and check and confirm that people are doing what they’re supposed to.”

He said that doesn’t stop people from trying to skirt the rules.

People on work release are more likely to be able to cheat, despite having to be at the work release center during off hours, because they aren’t required to wear a GPS-monitoring anklet, so they’re not being directly supervised all day, Hessman said. But staff members do check-in visits at least once a week and talk with supervisors. So if they show up at work and the offender isn’t there or a supervisor says they’ve been showing up late or traveling off location, that can lead to a violation, Hessman said.

If a person isn’t back at the end of a work shift and hasn’t called, prosecutors will almost immediately file an arrest warrant, and that person can face a new felony charge for escape, Hessman said.

For people on home detention, monitoring anklets send real-time updates on their location. If they leave home or deviate from an approved path, the anklet will send an alert to community corrections officers, Hessman said. Then a staff member has to either get that person to come in or go out and find them.

“If they’re on home detention the probability of them getting by and (cheating) is very slim,” Hessman said.

Community corrections can discipline offenders who make minor mistakes while on the program by giving a warning or tweaking their plans. Otherwise those offenders are just sent back to the jail, Hessman said.

If a person doesn’t follow the rules, prosecutors will push for them to serve the rest of their sentence in jail or prison, Cooper said.

“Being on probation, work release or home detention is a privilege, not a right,” Cooper said. “If you violate that privilege, you should expect to spend most of the time you have not served in the Department of Correction.”