Wake Correctional Center part of pilot program using ankle monitors to track work-release inmates

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Almost every day, 87 men walk out of the gates of the Wake Correctional Center and head off to work.

And state prison officials say the work release program they take part in is all about public safety.

"If they come out and are gainfully employed they are less likely to go out and commit additional crimes," said Sarah Cobb, the director of Rehabilitative Services for the NC Prison Division. "So that makes it safer for my family and for your family."

Cobb said only a handful of inmates, about eight year, skip out and don't return from work release.

Compare that with the 1,200 inmates a day state-wide who take part in the program.

Still, she knows that even one escape is concerning to the public.

And that's why they've listened to suggestions on making the program more secure.

"We're trying different things. And we're all about enhancing the public safety," she told ABC11.

RELATED: Wake County escapee captured weeks after leaving work release job

When a work release inmate failed to return to prison in September, ABC11 viewers wondered on social media why those inmates weren't wearing the GPS monitors worn by many people on probation or pre-trial release.

We wondered too and when we inquired of state officials we found out they were seriously considering the idea.

Now they've started two pilot programs to test using ankle monitors.

One is at Wake Correctional, which has one of the largest work release programs in North Carolina.

Cobb knows there are a lot of questions the pilot program can answer.

"Does it deter an offender? Does he think twice before walking off? We know that it's not going to completely stop a person from making a decision that he will regret later but we're hoping with this safety enhancement that the public will feel better about the job that we're trying to do," she said.

Anthony Perry, the warden at Wake Correctional, is also hopeful GPS monitor will reduced the temptation to not return to prison.

And he wants citizens to know that it won't cost them a dime.

"The taxpayer is not paying for this.The offender is paying for this. It's coming out of their work release check," he said.

Some prisoners aren't happy about paying $77 a month out of a paycheck from what are mostly low-wage jobs.

But Perry says that's part of the price of the privilege of being on work release.

Cobb notes that all work release prisoners are nearing the end of their sentences.

"They are going home. We have to prepare them. That's our responsibility to do that," she said.

And work release, she says, is the best avenue to prepare them.

"Being employed is huge. If you're not employed or underemployed it's a huge barrier to a successful reentry into the community."

Prison officials say they will review the pilot programs in a few months to see if they are viable state-wide.

If so, they believe North Carolina might be the first state to implement GPS tracking in work release.
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