Limits Urged for Home Detention: Monitor Didn't Keep Man from Raping

By Trugman, Kristan | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 28, 1997 | Go to article overview

Limits Urged for Home Detention: Monitor Didn't Keep Man from Raping


Trugman, Kristan, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Trena Wagner concedes her private home-monitoring company did not keep Brian Lamont Sowell in check in Prince George's County, but she's quick to add that no monitoring system could have.

He was convicted Aug. 13 of raping and assaulting a woman in November, a crime he committed while he was on home detention awaiting trial on a charge of armed robbery.

While Mrs. Wagner has joined the chorus calling for tighter regulation of monitoring companies such as her own, she says that deciding who qualifies for home detention is crucial to monitoring's success.

"Sure there need to be regulations, but let's start at the top. Let's make sure the courts put the appropriate people in these programs," said Mrs. Wagner, the president of Monitoring Services Inc.

Prince George's District Judge Gerard Devlin, who approved Sowell for home detention, would welcome the guidance.

"We're asked to be Solomon, and sometimes we fall short," Judge Devlin said. Unlike their Virginia counterparts, who are prohibited from putting violent offenders on home detention, Maryland judges have no guidelines for such sentencing.

"I really think it's an area the legislature should give serious thought. I think we'd be taken off the hook," Judge Devlin said.

He said he inherited Sowell's case from another judge and believed that Sowell had been qualified for pretrial release. Sowell had been out of prison, where he served time for robbery, for about a year when he was charged with armed robbery, scheduled for trial and put on home detention.

"My impression is that he would be at home," Judge Devlin said.

He ordered Sowell to stay in his girlfriend's home between 7 p.m. and 8 a.m. and to leave during the day only for his job at an auto dealership. On the day of the rape, Sowell showed up as scheduled at Mrs. Wagner's office at 6 p.m., had his anklet transmitter checked and paid $40 for the monitoring service. The 21-year-old victim testified that she was raped at 5:50 p.m.

The programs track inmates using electronic devices and anklets. An anklet transmits a signal to the monitor if the wearer leaves home without permission or tries to tamper with the device.

Computers are programmed with the times defendants should be home and randomly will call. Most of them give a series of voice tests to compare the person's voice with the template of the person in the program.

Depending on the level of security, monitors can also use closed-circuit television and can administer Breathalyzer tests.

Home detention is intended to relieve jail crowding.

Unless a judge orders a defendant or convict to stay home, the person is allowed to go out to work and visit probation officers or counselors. Sowell was allowed to leave home from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. to work at an automobile dealership, Mrs. Wagner said.

Sowell, who was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the assault, also faces charges in connection with four other rapes and robberies police say he committed while on home detention. …

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