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`Go to your room' -- new prison substitute

By Scott ArmstrongStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 30, 1985



Los Angeles

David Wayte slumps down in a padded lawn chair and looks out over the backyard swimming pool. ``Yeah, this is not bad for prison,'' he says.

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Prison?

This is it: pool, television, telephone -- all the comforts of home, at least as far as convict David Wayte is concerned. Mr. Wayte, a draft protester, was sentenced to six months ``house arrest'' in September by a federal district judge in Los Angeles.

He is one of a growing number of convicts across the country now serving time at home instead of behind bars. Restrictions on people under house arrest vary. Mr. Wayte, for instance, is allowed visitors but can only leave his home for medical emergencies. He is not allowed to work. But in most other cases, convicts may enter job-training programs or work. Part of their earnings are used to defray the state's cost of monitoring them.

Faced with burgeoning prison populations and rising costs of internment, more and more states are trying home detention as a less expensive alternative to locking up ``low risk'' inmates. Some states and communities have been experimenting with it on a limited scale for several years. Now, however, the size and number of programs is rapidly expanding:

In recent months, federal judges in New York and Los Angeles have handed down house-arrest sentences -- the first by federal courts. One was the internment given to Wayte for his refusal five years ago to register for the draft.

The other was recently meted out to Maureen Murphy, a Queens, N.Y., legal secretary convicted on racketeering and conspiracy charges. She is to be incarcerated at her home for two years as part of a five-year probation sentence.

Florida, which has the most ambitious house-arrest program in the country, now has more than 4,750 inmates locked up in residences -- but not all are ``nonviolent'' offenders.

Oklahoma recently expanded its program to the point where it now has some 700 inmates under house arrest.

Several other states -- including Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, and South Carolina -- currently operate state-run home-detention programs. Similar programs exist at the county level in several states.

``There is a fairly strong trend toward it now,'' says Paul Keve, a corrections expert at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. The trend toward house arrest is part of a broader shift within the criminal-justice community to try certain types of community-based correction, either as an alternative to prison or as a way to ease inmates back into society. At least 25 states now operate ``intensive supervision'' programs, of which house arrest is generally considered the most stringent type. Cost, crowding prompt new approach

Underlying all this is the continuing problem of overcrowded prisons. There are 47,000 more prisoners than there are beds to put them in in federal and state penitentiaries. Some 25,000 inmates are being held in local jails because of overcrowded conditions in these facilities.

Another factor spurring on house-arrest sentencing is cost. On average, the tab for keeping an inmate locked up in a state prison is $17,000 a year. No definitive studies have been done on the cost of house arrest, but indications are that it is less expensive than maintaining a person in prison, but more expensive than traditional probation. Last year Florida took in $9.2 million in fees from house-bound convicts, although this was not enough to cover the cost of supervising them.

House arrest is no cure-all for these ills. But advocates see it as a way to punish certain offenders without aggravating existing prison problems.

``The idea is to give sanction that has more meaning than probation,'' says Anthony Travisono, executive director of the American Correctional Association in College Park, Md. Oklahoma and Florida lead the way