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September 13, 2008

Problems with GPS tracking in Connecticut

I have long be interested in GPS tracking schemes as a seemingly more effective and economical means for monitoring certain offenders than just keeping them locked up indefinitely.  But local stories from Connecticut here and here and here spotlight a serious potential problem with GPS tracking. 

Here are the basic details as reported in one article:

The state withdrew charges on Friday that serial rapist David M. Pollitt had violated his probation by wandering from his sister's home, calling into question the reliability of the GPS system the state uses to track some 300 sex offenders living throughout Connecticut.

Pollitt, 55, who was released from prison last year after serving 24 years for several vicious rapes, was charged with violation of probation after the state's GPS contractor notified Pollitt's probation officer that Pollitt had wandered away from his sister's home in Southbury for about 15 minutes on Sept. 3.

On Friday, the state withdrew the charge after the GPS contractor notified the probation department that the system was not working properly during the time in question.

And here is the aftermath from another:

Hours after a prosecutor dropped violation of probation charges against convicted serial rapist David Pollitt that were based on a faulty GPS reading, judicial officials said they'd investigate the reliability of the monitoring system for which the state pays a contractor nearly $1 million a year....

Thomas J. Ullman, Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association president, cited "numerous cases ... where the electronic monitoring devices have been mistaken." 

On Friday, the co-chairmen of the state legislature's judiciary committee, Sen. Andrew J. McDonald and Rep. Michael Lawlor, said the GPS system "has reportedly been malfunctioning for what appears to be an extended period of time."  Blumenthal called for an investigation into the GPS system that Pro Tech provides as a subcontractor to California-based G4S Justice Services Inc., which has a $950,000-a-year contract with the judicial branch for electronic monitoring of probationers and parolees. "There is simply no excuse for this malfunction," he said.

[Governor] Rell released a statement saying, "This incident raises a number of troubling questions: Is the GPS system we are using reliable? Can we be sure this will not happen again?"

Some related posts on GPS tracking:

September 13, 2008 at 10:07 AM | Permalink

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Comments

In a program that monitors 540 sex offenders with GPS monitors we get about 55 false reports a day or about one false report every ten days per offender. Other agencies have reported similar false report rates. There are a large number of ordinary actions that can result in a false report (entering a metal building is one).

The main cost is having a probation officer check out false report at an average rate of 2.3 false reports per hour (several person-days). Because the POs are busy checking false report there has been a reduction in the level of supervision and a decrease in the number of detected probation violations. The legislators are continuing this fiasco because they told the voters it was a low cost HI-TECH solution. My guess it that they will gradually phase it out over the next several years.

Posted by: John Neff | Sep 13, 2008 11:55:37 AM

The initiation and continuation of these programs also depends on the effectiveness of the lobbying of the companies that would be the providers of the devices and services. These would be very lucrative contracts.

If indeed this begins to happen, those in favor of probation and parole as an alternative to incarceration will find that they have unexpected support in their legislative efforts.

Posted by: beth curtis | Sep 14, 2008 10:24:51 AM

There are really two related issues here. First it is necessary for the courts and probation to acknowledge that these alternative methods of monitoring are not perfect. My experiences with alcohol monitoring as a DUI public defender in state court was that the courts just accepted the technology at face value. The other issue is that the contractors have to be held accountable for providing an accurate monitoring system, or they should lose the contract. If the courts arent vigilant about errors, no one with a voice will be checking on the contractors.

Posted by: KRG | Sep 15, 2008 1:38:20 PM

A very close friend of mine was on this same type of GPS monitoring here In Anoka County Minnesota. His equipment was constantly malfunctiononing. The PO responses to the frequent errors were to further restricct or confine him to certain parts of the home and banning the yard. Errors still occured and the 4th of July weekend instead of using following up to confirm if it was an error they just arrested him. He had been home the entire day. The origina hearing was scheduled and then changed when it was found the PO officer was to be on nacation. September 15 he had his new hearing. no witness were allowed, the PO officer did not arttend and he was sentanced to a year in prison. No due process in this case, Gross misuse of the PO powers an the justice system.

Posted by: J Erickson | Sep 20, 2008 12:45:07 PM

A very close friend of mine was on this same type of GPS monitoring here In Anoka County Minnesota. His equipment was constantly malfunctioning. The PO Department responses to the frequent errors were to further restrict or confine him to certain parts of the home and banning the yard. Frequent errors still occured and during the 4th of July weekend instead of again following up to confirm if it was an error they just arrested him. He had been home the entire day. The original hearing was scheduled for August and then changed when it was found the PO officer was to be on vacation. September 15 he had his new hearing. no witness were allowed in the hearing, The PO officer also did not attend the hearing. He was sentanced to 1 year in prison. There was No due process in this case, this was a gross misuse of the PO powers and the justice system.

SOrry for repost, I didn't proof before posting

Posted by: J Erickson | Sep 20, 2008 1:05:09 PM

GPS tracking devices are a great way to monitor anything from vehicles, personal assets to criminals remotely. However, when GPS systems are used to monitor sex offenders and other criminals, they are only as effective as the person monitoring the data transmitted from the tracker. Accountability must fall on the individual monitoring the trackers because the technology is useless without the individual.

Posted by: GPS Tracking System | Aug 28, 2010 2:23:35 PM

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