Use of electronic monitoring equipment to track criminal offenders and pretrial defendants in Santa Fe County has nearly doubled over the past five years, according to figures released to SFR by the county Public Safety Department.

From 2011 to 2015, the number of county residents ordered by judges to wear GPS monitors or use breathalyzers increased from 837 to 1,443. A county memo touts the programs as cost-effective alternatives to incarceration, but as the use of monitoring devices increased, the jail population has remained relatively steady.

County spending on electronic monitoring programs increased by 500 percent since 2011, when commissioners awarded a contract to BI Inc., the nation's leading provider of offender monitoring devices and services. Last week, the Board of County Commissioners approved an additional $250,000 to pay for BI's products, bringing the county's total compensation of the company to more than $2 million.

While the county manages electronic monitoring, it is ultimately up to the courts to decide which offenders to track. County Manager Katherine Miller says that the current rate of expansion is becoming unsustainable. During a meeting with judges, she asked them to exercise discretion when considering the use of electronic monitoring.

"I'm not saying 'Send them to jail.' What I'm saying is, 'If they're not a flight risk, is GPS monitoring necessary?'" Miller says. "I'm asking them to work with us, because having this much of a budget increase doesn't work with us."

Tino Alva, the director of county monitoring programs, says part of the cash went to upgrading technology. Beginning in December 2010, the county gradually transitioned from landline-based radio trackers to satellite GPS devices, which provide real-time updates of a person's whereabouts. For example, someone accused of domestic violence would automatically trigger an alert if they approach a victim's address. And in March 2014, the county also switched from a home-based alcohol monitoring system to Soberlink, a portable breathalyzer. On Monday, the county oversaw 125 people wearing ankle bracelets and 128 using Soberlink.

Thomas Clark, a criminal defense attorney based in Santa Fe, says he has seen a dramatic increase in the number of judges imposing Soberlink as a condition of release for DWI and other alcohol-fueled crimes. "These devices are a way for the court to ensure people don't violate their release conditions," Clark tells SFR. "It's cumbersome and embarrassing, but as opposed to sitting in jail, the tradeoff is worth it."