Recent Changes Expand Availability of Sheriff’s Alternative Work Program for “Low-Risk” Defendants

As many readers of Across the Bar know, the Sheriff’s Alternative Work Project has undergone changes in the past year. As part of an effort to reduce jail overcrowding in response to the so-called “realignment” that occurred in 2010-11, the Sheriff has expanded the programs and options available to those defendants who are deemed “low risk” and are not precluded by the Court from applying.

Overall, the Sheriff still offers the same three alternatives to traditional jail sentences: (1) the Alternative Work Project (“AWP”), which allows defendants to trade eight hours of work for two days in custody; (2) the Electronic Monitoring Program (“EMP”), in which a defendant is monitored by an ankle bracelet; and (3) Work Furlough, in which a defendant is allowed to leave the jail during the day to work at his/her job, returning to custody on evenings and weekends. The latter option is rarely used anymore, as it does not relieve overcrowding at the jail and is reserved for defendants who do not qualify for the other options.

Both AWP and EMP have undergone significant changes in recent years. Many will remember a length-of-sentence restriction for AWP which disqualified defendants with sentences over 180 days from participating. This often required the courts and attorneys to engage in creative sentencing, through which a portion of a lengthy sentence would be temporarily stayed to allow for participation in AWP. In recognition of this legal fiction, AWP now considers applicants with sentences in excess of 180 days. Even a defendant sentenced to 365 days in jail can still apply and be accepted. Generally, that defendant must be able to make steady progress on AWP, which essentially means that he must be able to work at least five days a week. If that is not possible, then AWP will likely be denied.

As before, AWP charges a $75 administrative fee to apply. Out-of-custody defendants can bring this to the AWP office in person; in-custody inmates can either pay out of money “on their books” or have a friend or relative drop the fee off for them at the AWP offices. The entire process takes 2-3 weeks for in custody inmates applying at the jail. A per-day fee of $10-$15 is also assessed, but it is income-based and can be reduced for indigent defendants on a case-by-case basis.

The Alternative Work Project now considers applications with sentences in excess of 180 days. Even a defendant sentenced to 365 days in jail can still apply and be accepted.

Defendants that have been convicted of driving under the influence (“DUI”) with at least one prior conviction for DUI will be required to wear an alcohol-detecting “SCRAM” bracelet while on AWP. Those convicted of drug-related offenses will be required to wear a “drug patch,” which, like the SCRAM, detects the presence of drugs.

For defendants with lengthy sentences, or those who cannot qualify for AWP for some other reason (e.g., physical disability), the Sheriff will encourage EMP as an alternative. This requires the defendant to wear an ankle bracelet device that tells the Sheriff where the defendant is at all times. Notably, a landline phone is no longer required as the Sheriff has shifted to GPS devices that communicate wirelessly. There are no length-of-sentence limitations and, like AWP, a $75 administrative fee is required to apply along with a fee of $15 per day, which is also income-based.

When approved, EMP defendants may be allowed to work and attend other necessary appointments (e.g., doctor visits, court appearances). Otherwise, defendants must be at home or at another preapproved location. As with defendants on AWP, in DUI cases where a defendant has at least one prior DUI conviction, defendants will be required to wear a SCRAM bracelet in addition to the EMP bracelet. Drug-related offenses also require the aforementioned “drug patch.”

It should be noted that both AWP and EMP are available not only to those defendants serving county jail sentences as a condition of probation, but also to those serving “prison sentences” in county jail pursuant to A.B. 109/Penal Code § 1170(h). Thus, the programs are essentially available to all sentenced inmates at the county jail who are not otherwise precluded from applying. The only significant difference for A.B. 109 inmates is that a GPS bracelet is always required, even for those doing AWP.