« Around the blogosphere | Main | Could and should new technologies help achieve perfect deterrence? »

September 25, 2009

Technocorrections, economic realities and a new privacy/liberty relationship

Today's Washington Post has this interesting article focused on alcohol monitoring devices, which is headlined "Sweat Becomes Offenders' New Snitch: Alcohol-Sniffing Anklet Saves Money but Stirs Privacy Fears."  As this excerpt reveals, the piece discussion various important issues that come up in the context of many technocorrections:

[Bari Lynne] Williams wears a high-tech sensor on her ankle that can detect the faintest whiff of alcohol in her perspiration. If she sneaks a drink, the device will know it -- and so will a judge, who could put her behind bars for violating a court order to avoid alcoholic beverages.

At $12 a day, the anklet is a bargain, compared with $150 a day to house a minor offender such as Williams in the Loudoun County jail, and far less than the $24,332 a year it costs Virginia to keep a felon in state prison.  Best of all, backers say, Williams and other offenders pay the bill.

The biometric anklet represents a recent technological breakthrough whose popularity is gaining as state and local governments search for ways to close budget deficits during the recession. More than half of all states have slashed spending on corrections this year, while some, including New Hampshire, Michigan, California and now Virginia, are closing prisons, releasing some prisoners early or expanding the use of electronic monitoring.

Local governments are also targeting jails for cost-savings. Loudoun, which began using the alcohol-monitoring device 18 months ago, introduced a pilot program last week using anklets with global positioning system technology to track juvenile offenders. Fairfax County Supervisor Pat S. Herrity (R-Springfield) hopes to promote the use of it for his county, and a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge applied it to a defendant in a domestic violence case.

But the gadget has also stirred "Big Brother" jitters as technological advances make it easier for governments and corporations to keep tabs on people. While law enforcement has been using satellite-based GPS to track offenders' whereabouts for some time, privacy advocates say the alcohol-monitoring device -- known as Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor, or SCRAM -- has taken law enforcement into the realm of continuously and remotely monitoring people's physical condition. "We are at a point where no one could have even imagined 15 years ago," said Albert J. Lurigio, a professor of psychology and criminal justice at Loyola University who has written about electronic monitoring and privacy since a New Mexico judge, inspired by Spider-Man comics, became the first to sentence a defendant to home confinement with an electronic monitor.

The driver these days is money. The National Conference of State Legislatures lists 28 states that are squeezing savings from corrections by easing harsh drug laws, laying off staff workers or closing prisons. New Hampshire's governor has proposed using home confinement for habitual drunk drivers, and California lawmakers considered freeing thousands of nonviolent inmates and monitoring them with GPS devices before opting for less-controversial cuts.

As I was reading this piece, I got to thinking about how technology in general and technocorrections in particular could be producing a new a relationship between liberty and privacy.  Before certain modern technologies and technocorrections, one could generally assume that enhanced individual privacy would also advance and ensure enhanced individual liberty.  But, as this story spotlights, due to economic realities and other forces, some offenders who are willing (or required) to give up privacy by being monitored by GPS and SCRAM and other devices may actually be rewarded with increased liberty by being able to avoid extra time in prison or jail. 

Some related posts on GPS tracking and related technocorrections:

September 25, 2009 at 03:46 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Technocorrections, economic realities and a new privacy/liberty relationship:


That last statement is a little bit like saying that there is a difference between a pair of steel handcuffs and plastic ones. I don't consider a person being being monitored at home having more liberty than a person in jail. Indeed, I see how it might be possible to claim they has much less liberty; even in jail one is not spied upon 24/7 by the guards.

Posted by: Daniel | Sep 25, 2009 5:10:53 PM

I have rarely heard of many defendants asserting that they would prefer prison to home confinement, though it is possible that some folks have home-life realities that could make them prefer jail. That said, I have a hard time considering most existing form of monitoring to be more liberty-restrictive than most forms of incarceration.

Of course, I could assert that I would be more "free" to read books and work out if I was in prison than living my current workaholic life. But that is not the notion of liberty I have in mind here, especially since my concern about liberty is mostly about freedom from STATE restrictions on actions and choices.

Posted by: Doug B. | Sep 25, 2009 5:30:49 PM

There is no stopping techocorrections so it should be limited to accomplishing what it is designed to do and no more. For example, with stalking or domestic violence monitoring, the only time the authorities need activation is when the person monitored is within rage of the victim, which means the victim would also have to carry some type of monitoring. In the future, cars will know if the driver is intoxicated because the monitoring device will tell the car and it will probably be cheaper and less cumbersome than those breath machines in cars. There is no reason to monitor anything else since drunk driving it the compelling interest.

Posted by: George | Sep 25, 2009 7:18:26 PM

Doug. I think that technocorrections are state restrictions on liberty.

There is an an old case whose cite I cannot remember that articulated that a person had a right "to be let alone." In the past, the right to be let alone and the right to be unmonitored were one and the same right. If you were off on the homestead somewhere you were unmonitored; that was the reality. And if you were in prison you were effectivly monitored and not left alone. What technocorrections does is bifurcate this historical reality. It's now possible to be left alone in a physical sense (i.e., not in jail) yet be still be monitored.

Your comment that people would rather not be in prison at all is besides the point. Of course they wouldn't. Just like society would prefer they didn't comment a crime to begin with. But the fundamental fact is that techocorrections is an impingement on some liberty interest; if it were not, it wouldn't be a punishment.

Your assertion is that technocorrctions in an increase in liberty. That's true if, and only if, you are willing to bifurcate the right to be let alone. I'm not willing to bifurcate that right because I'm not willing to bifurcate a human being. The right to be let alone means the not only the right to be let alone physically; it means the right to be let alone psychically (that is, unmonitored). Ergo, techocorrections doesn't increase liberty it merely shifts the impingement of liberty from one part of the whole human being to another.

Of course, I recognize that there are materialists who would say that physical liberty is the gravamen of corrections. But as a psychologist I reject that out of hand.

Posted by: Daniel | Sep 25, 2009 7:51:50 PM

Daniel: What do you think about making psychology the basic science of the law. I don't know if you have had legal training. If you have, you know the law is a mess. Right now Scholasticism is its basic science, and the Catechism the pre-law text that sets out its methods, vocabulary and core doctrines.

Because the law is behavioral, and its sole tool is punishment, psychology is a natural choice as its basic science. There would be behaviorism, of course, but also psychopathology, and its management.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 26, 2009 12:04:37 AM

SC. I am Holmesian in my outlook. I don't think that any one science is the science of the law. My goal as a psychologist is to increase awareness of the impact of sentencing, of punishment, on the mind. I believe that we would take a great leap forward as a society if we accepted that mental harms are just as real and just as important as physical harms.

Posted by: Daniel | Sep 26, 2009 2:00:55 AM

I am still looking for the first instance in which OW was wrong. In a criminal law book, the author showed that his support of felony murder was wrong headed. He provided the data in a footnote. The author made a math error, and OW was right, felony murder laws deterred murder.

Right now, Scholasticism provides the methods and concepts of the law. OK with you, as a citizen of our secular nation and owner of the law, to have supernatural doctrines, and the resulting incompetence?

Go to 1856 to 1860 at this site.


Mortal sin analysis has three "elements." These land the person in hell for eternity (1861).
1) grave matter (for example, those specified in the Ten Commandments);
2) full knowledge in advance
3) committed with "complete consent."

The Medieval church believed, in accordance with their faith, God would judge the above after death, his being all knowing. Not even the Church of 1250 AD believed, man could read minds. Only the lawyer does.

Half the perps and half the murder victims are legally drunk. Even they cannot read their own minds. Some have no recall of the crime.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 26, 2009 6:25:26 AM

Thanks! Great Blog! Very useful information!

Thanks again!

I’m glad to see this post.

Thank you guys!

Posted by: חלקי חילוף לרכב במרכז | Jan 3, 2011 8:12:56 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB