Expansion of GPS monitoring


First used in U.S. courts in 1983 electronic monitoring is currently going viral in the criminal justice system. While in the early days, radio frequency technology dominated, most current systems are GPS-based, allowing near real time tracking. [Early electronic monitoring only indicated if the person went out of range of their electronic box, usually connected to their telephone. Use of these systems is rare today. GPS is the current norm]

Originally what practitioners often call “EM” applied primarily to people guilty of petty crimes or those` with sex offenses. But today prison overcrowding and state budget crises have made electronic monitoring an alternative of choice. On a normal day some 200,000 people wake up with a black plastic box strapped to their leg and the number is growing. In the past week alone, San Francisco County announced plans to triple the number of people on EM while legislators in Louisiana, which has the nation’s highest per capita incarceration rate, considered initiatives to put legions of people onto the streets using the electronic tether.

GPS monitoring as a condition of parole or probation is becoming more common, especially for high-risk clients. Currently, there are nearly five million people in the U.S. under some form of post-conviction supervision. Less than 50,000 are on electronic monitoring, but the number is growing rapidly

On one level all this EM is a good thing. For more than three decades we’ve been locking people up at a furious rate. Our prison and jail population has quintupled since 1980, now standing around 2.3 million. Electronic monitoring does offer opportunities for people other than the rich and famous to avoid being behind bars. Currently, the most common application of electronic monitoring is pre-trial release. Every day individuals awaiting judgment on relatively minor offenses go about their daily business on an ankle bracelet as a condition of bail. Cook County in Illinois has already run 250,000 people through electronic monitoring regimes, 85% of them pre-trial. This is a step in the right direction-trying to ensure that a minor brush with the law doesn’t cost a person their job, their housing, or access to medical treatment and education. But at the same time, there are concerns about how the use of this technology will evolve. It all gets a little more complicated when we move beyond probationers, parolees and people out on bail.

At the root of the complexity is the reality that electronic monitoring is not only a policy device, but an industry. Not surprisingly the biggest force in the world of EM is also one of the giants of the private prisons sector, the GEO Group. This Florida-based firm pulled in earnings of just over $1.6 billion in 2011. Early last year GEO took over the EM sector’s largest player, BI Incorporated of Colorado. BI is both a producer of the devices and a provider of backup services, including direct monitoring of individuals on ankle bracelets through a network of community-based offices. BI controls some 30% of the U.S. EM market.

GEO’s investment in BI dovetails neatly with the company’s most rapidly expanding market niche: immigration detention. While private providers only hold 8% of prison beds nationwide, in immigration the figure is 49%. The advent of harsher immigration laws and the increasing implementation of Secure Communities promises even bigger profits for private sector liberty deprivers. For those captured by the immigration dragnet but not put behind bars, BI has the perfect solution- intensive supervision. In a $372 million contract signed with ICE in 2009, BI agreed to “intensively supervise” 27,000 people awaiting litigation for deportation or political asylum. For most of these 27,000 that intensive supervision will include a BI ankle bracelet.

The introduction of this technology into the immigration sphere raises questions of who’s next. If the GEO Group and other major players in the electronic monitoring sector such as Omnilink, iSecure Trac, Secure Alert, and Pro Tech are to maintain their bottom lines, they need to expand their revenue either by tethering more ankles, lobbying for longer terms for those who are under EM, or increasing service charges. A second untapped market niche is school pupils. In Texas a number of high schools with primarily African American and Latino student bodies are placing pupils with records of excessive truancy on ankle bracelets. In Dallas’ Bryan Adams High School, local EM provider iISecureTrac kicked in $26,000 to fund a pilot program. The principal was a former employee of the Bureau of Prisons.

While there is little evidence that EM reduces recidivism, expect the private providers, led by BI, to use an army of lobbyists to pitch their product with a heavy dose of the gospel of ensuring public safety and the need for tighter restrictions for those on GPS systems.

In terms of service charges, many existing EM programs have already initiated user fees on bracelet wearers of $5 to $15 a day plus startup charges which run as high as $200. Denver even has a website where people can pay their EM user fees online. Such miniscule tariffs don’t pose a problem for the Martha Stewarts and Paris Hiltons of the EM realm, but for the generally impoverished population that ends up in jail relatively small amounts can break the bank.

Slate reporter William Saletan:

“As GPS gets cheaper, politicians will be tempted to order it not just for people who would otherwise be jailed, but for those who wouldn’t.” “No matter which of these voices you’re listening to, if your history includes mental health problems, receiving state assistance, seriously overdue student loan repayments or getting caught smoking in the high school bathroom-watch your ankle. {“Widening the Net”:Big brother keeps getting more powerful with the new technology]

SOURCE (some editing): http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/04/30/the-rise-of-electronic-monitoring-in-criminal-justice/

Using services or technology on people who, without the technology or service, wouldn’t have become clients in the first place is called “widening the net”


Within . . . criminology this term is used to describe the effects of providing alternatives to incarceration or diversion programs to direct offenders away from court. While all of these programs developed since the late 1960's were intended to reduce the numbers of offenders in prison or reduce the numbers going to court, it has been found that what has happened instead is that the total numbers of offenders under the control of the state have increased while the population targeted for reduction has not been reduced. In short, the net of social control has been thrown more widely (or some might say the mesh has been made smaller)."

SOURCE (some editing) http://bitbucket.icaap.org/dict.pl?term=NET%20WIDENING

Perhaps gun owners and/or those with concealed carry will be next. It used to be said that "the only things you can be sure of in life are death and taxes." I thkink we can add the disturbing and dangerous growth of "Big Brother" to that list.

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