Montco replaces weekend sentences with house arrest and monitoring

The emergency order by President Judge Thomas DelRicci formalizes a policy in practice since the start of the pandemic.

 The Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

The Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

The president judge of Montgomery County Court has suspended weekend sentences amid concern over spread of the coronavirus in correctional facilities. Weekend sentences are designed to meet minimum sentencing requirements in a way that does not disrupt a person’s life as dramatically as a concurrent sentence that might cause them to lose a job or have to drop out of school.

The order replaces periodic incarceration with house arrest and electronic monitoring. Though the policy has been in practice for months, this is the first county-level decision to formalize the preventative health measure.

In his July emergency order, Judge Thomas DelRicci writes that anyone sentenced to weekends in the Montgomery County Correctional Facility will now serve “consecutive days of house arrest commencing on the date of the application of the electronic monitoring device.”

Prison reform advocates see it as a common-sense measure that avoids needlessly risking transmission of the virus.

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“Not having people coming in and out of there so much is definitely helpful,” said Amy McFalls, who leads the group Pennsylvania CURE, the state-level chapter of Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants, a national advocacy group.

According to McFalls, weekend sentences and work-release programs involve moving back and forth between jails, homes, and other locations. Since March, when the courts indefinitely suspended such arrangements, it’s been hard for people to know how they will navigate serving their sentences.

“The weekenders were just sitting in limbo,” McFalls said.

In Montgomery County, she estimated, the decision affects roughly two dozen people, typically sentenced to weekend imprisonment for nonviolent offenses such as DUIs. But, she added, the numbers are hard to pin down because judges are still sentencing people.

According to McFalls, though multiple counties around Pennsylvania have suspended these kinds of sentences, Montgomery is the first to see the change codified through a judge’s order.

Individuals affected by the order are expected to make arrangements for electronic monitoring by July 24 or risk losing eligibility for the program.

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