Commonwealth's attorney bristles over questions about home incarceration

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Some of the most violent accused criminals in Louisville are being released back to their residence with a GPS monitor on the home incarceration program. 

This truth of the justice system has recently come under scrutiny in Jefferson County as those on HIP ended up back in jail charged with other offenses including murder.

"HIP is not an evil thing. It is a tool that we use," Jefferson County Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Wine said. "It is a valuable tool we just have to make sure we are putting the right people in, and I know that is not always palatable."  

On Wednesday, Wine joined Judge McKay Chauvin, Metro Corrections Director Mark Bolton and Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy Deputy Advocate Scott West on a panel at the Louisville Forum. The topic for the nonpartisan public issues group's monthly luncheon was "Home Incarceration of violent criminals--Are there Alternatives."

"HIP is not a rampant issue," Wine told the crowd. "It's not a problem with all sorts of dangerous people being released in our community. And if we get it wrong we are responsible."

The comments are in contrast to the case of Justin Curry. In August of 2017, Curry returned to jail less than three weeks after he was placed on HIP for a parole violation accused of killing 31-year-old James Harris.

There are two phases in the justice process where an inmate or offender can be placed on HIP: pre-trial, once they're charged with a crime but awaiting their "day in court," and as a condition of sentencing once their case has been adjudicated.

Just last week, four teenagers in Louisville received home incarceration and diversion as a condition of a plea deal put together by one of Wine's prosecutors for the beating death of Lonnie Bard. The 62-year-old was jumped at random while walking home from his mother's house in July 2017. Police said the teens broke Bard's neck, robbed him and left him for dead in the street.

"Home incarceration is a joke," Bard's daughter Lonnie McCray said after the teens' sentencing hearing. "This is a pat on the back. It's worse than a slap on the wrist. It's a pat on the back." 

Each panel member at Wednesday's forum reflected a stakeholder in the overall HIP process. A judge ultimately grants a person HIP. He or she follows the input of both prosecutors and defense attorneys, and in Louisville, jail staff oversee inmates granted the release back into the community. 

"I have concerns, though, about people who have caused a death or serious physical injury being released simply into home incarceration," Wine said. "I do have concerns about that."

But when asked before the forum specifically about the deal his office offered the suspects from Bard's death, Wine bristled.

"You know, first of all, that's not what you asked me to talk about, and this conversation is finished."

Wine rejected the idea that the case directly involved the home incarceration debate, rebuking a WDRB News reporter.

"No, it's once again trickery on your part, and I very much resent that," he said. 

Wine went on to say he didn't want to talk about those four teens, since a case against two other teens is pending.

Bolton said the stakeholders in Louisville do "a hell of job." He said HIP is a needed alternative, in part, as the city's overcrowded jail costs taxpayers $60 million. HIP runs about $12 per offender, per day, while a jail bed is $71 a day. Bolton said 6,100 people were on HIP between June 2016 and June 2017, and 2,100 had to be brought back to jail because they had no place to live.

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