One of the tethers used to track people on parole and probation

The electronic tether program tracking roughly 4,000 people in the Michigan Department of Corrections’ (MDOC) parole and probation programs will stay online until Jan. 1, 2021.

MDOC spokesperson Chris Gautz previously told The Center Square the tethers would “go dark” by the end of 2019 when Verizon planned to switch from a 3G to a 4G network.

That would mean MDOC would lose track of about 4,000 people on parole or probation, some of whom are sex offenders, violent criminals and drunk drivers, Gautze said, because the current budget doesn’t allocate $4.6 million for new tethers.

“We don’t want to put the public through that and have victims wondering whether or not the person who victimized them is going to be lost track of,” Gautz said. “We’d rather not ever have that situation, so we’d like to get this done as quickly as we can.”

A "tether" is an electronic monitoring device that allows parole officers to monitor and enforce curfews and other conditions of community supervision for those released from prison.

Gautz said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer originally put the tether funding in the budget, but it didn’t survive legislature review.

“Thankfully, Verizon reached out to us and let us know they are delaying their elimination of 3G for another year,” Gautz said, adding that MDOC otherwise wouldn’t have had time to replace the tethers before Jan. 1.

Gautz estimated replacing the 3G tethers would take about 30 to 45 days, accounting for several weeks from order to delivery.

Then MDOC has to distribute tethers across 105 field offices and schedule times with 4,000 people under state supervision to visit an office, fill out paperwork, and equip the 4G tethers.

“We prefer to do this sooner rather than later, and not put us in the position to be in the same spot next year, wondering if we’re going to get the money, and wondering if the tethers are going to go dark,” Gautz said, adding MDOC hopes to receive the funding by the end of 2019 so it can begin the tethering process in late winter or early spring of 2020.

“We’re a very small percentage of the overall issues they are trying to debate, and so getting that overall issue resolved is holding up this small, but very critical piece to us,” Gautz said. “We’re hopeful they will come together and make an agreement.”

Wayne County has reduced its average per-day jail population by 726 people from 2014 to 2017 through the tether program that “saved 237,250 jail bed days or $30 million savings to the General Fund,” according to the Wayne County budget report for 2018-19.

That program costs taxpayers $123 per day per inmate, according to the first Jail Task Force meeting, with a 2017 per-day average of 690 inmates monitored via tether, a significantly cheaper option compared to incarceration.

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.