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Baldwin County Requires Ankle Monitors for Low-Level Charges

Deputies from the Alabama county’s sheriff’s office often fasten monitors on about 25 people weekly and many of those haven’t been convicted of anything. Some say the monitors are financially and emotionally burdensome.

(TNS) — Misty Jackson walked out of jail in May of 2020 with an electronic bracelet wrapped firmly around her ankle.

After posting bail, Jackson paid another $75 to have that ankle monitor attached. Then she had to pay $10 for every day she wore it.

If she’d been arrested in almost any other county in Alabama, she would’ve posted bail and been free until her self-defense claims came to court. But Baldwin County along the coast in south Alabama is different.

People there are routinely forced to wear ankle monitors while out on bail even though they haven’t been convicted of crimes. Many are charged with low-level offenses, such as theft or drug possession — crimes for which they are unlikely to face time behind bars, even if found guilty.

Jackson, a 45-year-old artist, was charged with stabbing her boyfriend, who she said was attacking her. She faced house arrest as her case wound through the court system. The ankle monitor tracked her every move. She couldn’t go to the grocery store or visit her family without first texting or calling a sheriff’s deputy for permission.

Deputies could monitor her movements on a computer screen at their office in the city of Bay Minette. A little flag icon marked her location on a continuously updating map that showed deputies the location of every person wearing an ankle monitor in the county.

If Jackson stopped at the store on her way home from work, missed payments or violated any of the dozens of rules imposed, she could be arrested again.

“People looked at me like I was a criminal,” Jackson said in a recent interview. “Every time I left my house I was being ridiculed by the public, I was being stared at. It just makes you feel guilty.”

But Jackson wasn’t guilty of any crime. Her case didn’t even survive the grand jury.

Ankle Monitors in Alabama

Unlike in Baldwin County, the people who are required to wear ankle monitors in other parts of Alabama are typically charged with violent crimes, attorneys across the state told

“I don’t usually see it on low level offenses,” said Kira Fonteneau, a lawyer in Birmingham. “You wouldn’t see somebody charged with drug possession on an ankle monitor. It’s usually going to be like a violent crime or something really on the more serious end where the judge might take some heat if something bad happened while the person was out on bond.”

To understand how ankle monitors are used across the state, we requested public records, attended court hearings, read hundreds of pages of court documents, reviewed budget documents and interviewed more than 20 sources, including people who are or have been required to wear ankle monitors. Most of those who are currently required to wear ankle monitors agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity because of the control law enforcement and judges have over their lives.

Our reporting found that:

  • ankle monitors cost a lot of money, up to $10 day, for people who have difficulty finding work, disproportionately penalizing the poor
  • monitors sometimes malfunction and land people back in jail for errors beyond their control
  • the wide-ranging rules of ankle monitoring often further entangle people in the system due to technical violations, rather than keeping them out of jail
  • no state agency tracks how many people in Alabama are required to wear the monitors nor how much money they are paying
  • Baldwin County stands out for its wide use of ankle monitors on low-level offenders who are unlikely to face prison time

In theory, ankle monitors are a welcome tool in the criminal justice system, offering suspects a chance to serve time or await trial at home, to be near family, to raise children, to stay employed and to stay out of jail.

“I think it’s a really valuable part of the criminal justice system,” said Anthony Lowery, chief deputy for the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office. “It gives people some freedoms that you wouldn’t have obviously if you’re in jail. It gives you an opportunity to carry on your life while you’re waiting on adjudication of your case.”

But Kate Weisburd, an associate professor at George Washington University Law School, said the devices aren’t actually an alternative to incarceration; rather they are an alternative form of incarceration.

“It really presumes a problematic binary between two choices — incarceration versus being on a monitor — but that of course ignores the third option, which is freedom,” Weisburd said. “Our baseline should be a presumption of freedom. People should be free unless there’s some really compelling reason that they shouldn’t be.”

“Out of Hand”

In a typical week in Baldwin County, deputies from the sheriff’s office fasten ankle monitors on about 20-30 people, said Sgt. Jessica Wilson, the director of the county’s community corrections program, which oversees ankle monitoring. But because so many people cycle on and off monitoring, the program maintains about 160-180 people wearing the devices, she said.

Wilson said they don’t keep data tracking the types of crimes that lead to the monitors, but she said most people are charged with low-level or non-violent offenses.

Because many of those required to wear ankle monitors in Baldwin County are charged with crimes for which they are unlikely to face jail or prison time, that means it’s also unlikely that they would otherwise be held in jail while their cases proceed through the courts, according to experts and attorneys. In other words, if the technology didn’t exist, many of the people in Baldwin County would be free to lead their lives out on bail pending trial.

“This is a crazy, bizarre scenario,” said Jeremiah Giles, a Baldwin County attorney. “It’s really gotten out of hand.”

Giles said he often sees people who suffer from addiction ordered to wear monitors because they get arrested multiple times for simple drug possession.

Baldwin County District Judge William Scully frequently orders people to wear ankle monitors. He said he typically doesn’t require the device the first time someone is arrested and charged with a low-level offense.

He said he most often requires people to wear the monitors because they were already out on bond for one crime then when they were arrested for another one. He said he frequently sees people busted for drugs while they are already out on bond for another drug charge.

“If they continue to commit crimes,” he told, “I feel an obligation to do something to rein that in.”

He said he also considers the strength of the prosecution’s evidence when deciding whether to impose monitoring before trial.

“I’ve got to have a good feeling that the state’s going to have at least some good chance of getting a conviction,” he added. “If I look at the case and it’s bull hockey, then it’s maybe less likely that I’m going to put them on an ankle monitor.”

$10 a Day

On a Thursday morning in November, not far from the Alabama beach, defendants argued their cases in Judge Scully’s courtroom.

Some sent handwritten letters asking to have their ankle monitors removed. Many did not have lawyers.

One woman, charged with theft and drug possession, asked the judge to take off her ankle monitor so she could attend rehab.

Even if convicted she is unlikely to face jail or prison time, yet she had already been wearing and paying $10 a day for an ankle monitor for three months.

In her handwritten letter she told the judge that she wanted to get sober, regain custody of her children and “start over living life with purpose, not just living.”

She later spoke to on the condition of anonymity and said she pays nearly $700 every month to cover the cost of her ankle monitor, random drug testing and additional fees for state probation. She also has to travel between Mobile and Bay Minette, the Baldwin County seat, to attend random drug screens at least once a week and to meetings with the sheriff’s deputies who monitor her.

“It adds up really fast,” she said. “After I pay my rent, car and insurance and buy food, there’s not much left.”

By the time the judge agreed to allow her to have the ankle monitor removed to go to rehab, she had already paid the sheriff’s office about $1,000 for the monitoring.

The judge also agreed to remove ankle monitors for some other defendants that same November morning.

A lawyer representing a couple charged with sexual assault and bestiality asked the judge to let them take off their monitors. The judge approved the request after they passed drug tests.

The judge agreed to take off another man’s ankle monitor so he could move to Florida and work with a family member. A deputy spoke on the man’s behalf and told the judge that the man had complied with the rules of community corrections since his arrest on a rape charge more than three months earlier. The man also passed a drug test.

The judge ordered a teen accused of breaking into cars while wearing an ankle monitor to be taken to jail.

Dozens of Rules

Each defendant is required to post bond and pay for their monitoring, which costs $300 per month. They have to sign an agreement that says they can be jailed for failure to follow rules of the program, most notably including failure to pay for the monitor.

The agreement requires them to waive their HIPAA rights, agree to warrantless searches of their homes, workplaces and any vehicles they travel in.

Under the mandatory agreement, participants promise to stay off drugs, keep a job, stay within Baldwin County and “support all of their dependents.”

In addition to $10 a day for the monitor, they also have to pay for random drug testing — $20 per test — even if they aren’t charged with anything having to do with drugs.

Judge Scully acknowledged the financial burden ankle monitors impose.

He told that to soften the financial blow he often agrees to set lower bonds for people he requires to wear a monitor upon release.

“I’ve never sent somebody back to jail simply because they haven’t paid the money,” he said. “It’s certainly a factor I take into consideration. The important thing is whether they’re staying out of trouble.”

Without a Lawyer

Before she was released on the ankle monitor, Misty Jackson filed into a different makeshift courtroom at the Baldwin County jail on a Wednesday in May of 2020.

Wearing a striped jumpsuit, Jackson teetered to a seat in the back row. Her wrists and ankles were bound by shackles.

When the judge appeared on screen for a docket of virtual hearings, he called Jackson’s case first. She rose from the back row.

The other incarcerated people turned and stared when the judge read her charges aloud. She was charged with domestic violence — accused of stabbing and seriously injuring her then boyfriend with a butcher knife. The judge set her bail at $50,000 — on the condition that she wear an ankle monitor.

Jackson had been in the county jail since her arrest two days earlier. She had never been arrested before and didn’t yet have a lawyer. Without an attorney she couldn’t argue that the ankle monitor was unnecessary or explain the circumstances of her case.

Michael Pylant, a Baldwin County defense attorney who later represented Jackson, said it’s not unusual for defendants to be ordered to wear ankle monitors before they have lawyers.

“The person should have the ability to have a hearing to determine whether they even need the ankle monitor, whether it’s appropriate,” he said. “Bail is supposed to impose the least onerous conditions necessary to ensure your return to court. It’s not supposed to be punitive.

“If someone doesn’t have money for a lawyer, what makes you think they have $10 a day to pay for an ankle monitor?”


Local officials in Baldwin County say their ankle monitor program, though it does charge participants, does not make money. The Baldwin County Commission and Community Corrections Board, chaired by Sheriff Hoss Mack, oversees the program.

County budget records show the community corrections program does not take in enough to offset the cost of staff salaries and other operating expenses.

In fiscal 2019, the most recent year for which final data is available, the community corrections program collected $349,265 in revenue from its pretrial programs, including ankle monitoring. Yet the program spent $954,000. Budget documents show the county transferred $526,648 from other sources to offset the deficit.

County budget records report similar deficits for the previous two years, and project the same for the next two years.

Lowery, the Baldwin County chief deputy, said though the program is not profitable, it may save the government money — the cost of housing people and providing medical care in the jail — by allowing some people to live their lives out on bail while wearing ankle monitors ahead of trial.

“There might be a $500,000 deficit on what’s budgeted,” he said, “but in reality what we save on the cost of housing them could offset that.”

Wilson, the community corrections director, said ankle monitoring is not intended to make money.

“It costs money, but that’s not what this is about,” said Wilson. “It’s about helping people and giving them second chances.”

A Second Chance

Judge Scully said that in deciding whether to require an ankle monitor, he considers whether the person is accused of violence or previously violated the terms of bond.

“I don’t intend it as a punishment,” he said. “The point is not to inflict punishment. The point is to try to keep them out of trouble while they’re pending trial.”

He said he also gives people who are struggling with addiction a chance to get help. ”I probably have as many people, or more, in rehab as I do on ankle monitors,” he added.

Lowery said while ankle monitors may not prevent crime, they are still an important tool for law enforcement — and a second chance for defendants.

“Does it work all the time? No,” he said. “Do people still drink or use drugs or commit thefts and burglaries? Yes, that still happens. But people on other bonds do that as well.”

Wilson said the monitors can be a deterrent and sometimes help law enforcement find out who is responsible for crimes.

“This is by no means one strike and you’re out — not for one violation that’s minor,” she said. “We’re not out to put people back in jail.”

Cpl. Noah Davis, one of five deputies supervising people who wear ankle monitors, said they consider the “totality of the circumstances” in deciding whether to report delinquency. He said they try to connect people with resources to better their lives.

“There have been a lot of success stories,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many success stories.”

Judge Scully acknowledged that using ankle monitors pretrial means they can be fastened on people who end up being found not guilty.

“It’s part of the imperfection of our system,” Scully said.

Case Dismissed

After she left the Baldwin County jail with the ankle monitor, Misty Jackson struggled to find work.

For about 10 years she owned an art studio not far from the coast in Foley, but her business closed shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“I went into a deep dark hole when I realized just how people were viewing me,” she told “And no matter what, there was no way I could escape the fact that I’ve got this gigantic ankle monitor on.”

A friend gave her a $10-an-hour job as a hostess at a seafood restaurant in Gulf Shores. Jackson said she tried to cover the ankle monitor with a scarf or bandana. But customers and co-workers pointed and stared.

“You might as well have a flashing light on your forehead. People see the ankle monitor and ask, ‘What did you do?,” Jackson said. “I’d break down in tears because no matter what I said, everybody expects a ‘criminal’ to say ‘I didn’t do it.’”

Eventually she hired Pylant to represent her in court. He filed a motion asking the judge to take off the ankle monitor, arguing that Jackson had no criminal record, was not a flight risk and that she had a strong defense of her case — that she acted in self defense when she stabbed her boyfriend.

The boyfriend attacked her during a fight at her parent’s home in Gulf Shores, Pylant wrote in the motion. The previous year, Jackson’s boyfriend had pleaded guilty to domestic violence because he kicked her during another fight, according to court records.

In asking the judge to take off the ankle monitor, Pylant wrote that Jackson was a victim of chronic abuse and “presently fears for her life.”

The judge agreed to take off the monitor after Pylant filed a second motion — that one unopposed by the prosecution — arguing that the monitor should be removed.

By then Jackson had been wearing the monitor for about 10 weeks — paying $10 for each day.

About six months later, a grand jury declined to indict her, and the case was dismissed.

“She never should have been forced to wear that ankle monitor,” said Pylant, her attorney.

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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