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September 9, 2016

Accounting for huge modern increase in electronic monitoring of offenders

This short new Pew issue brief provides a fascinating accounting of large modern increase in offender subject to electronic monitoring.  The title provides the essential story: "Use of Electronic Offender-Tracking Devices Expands Sharply: Number of monitored individuals more than doubled in 10 years." Here are a few excerpts:

The number of accused and convicted criminal offenders in the United States who are monitored with ankle bracelets and other electronic tracking devices rose nearly 140 percent over 10 years, according to a survey conducted in December 2015 by The Pew Charitable Trusts.  More than 125,000 people were supervised with the devices in 2015, up from 53,000 in 2005.

All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government use electronic devices to monitor the movements and activities of pretrial defendants or convicted offenders on probation or parole.  The survey counted the number of active GPS and radio-frequency (RF) units reported by the companies that manufacture and operate them, providing the most complete picture to date of the prevalence of these technologies in the nation’s criminal justice system....

Establishing the exact number of offenders under electronic supervision is difficult, given the decentralized nature of the criminal justice system. Earlier approximations have varied widely.  For example, one study estimated that more than 90,000 GPS units were in use nationwide in 2009,  while the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that the figure was about 25,000 the same year.  Both studies, however, were incomplete. The former did not include a detailed methodology and did not indicate whether it counted only active monitoring devices or inactive ones as well; the latter did not count defendants on pretrial release and relied on the voluntary participation of state and local court and supervision agencies, many of which did not submit information.

To provide a more up-to-date and comprehensive picture, Pew developed a survey of the 11 companies known to manufacture, sell, or operate GPS and RF devices in the United States, including U.S. territories.  Seven of the largest companies responded, representing an estimated 96 percent of the market....

The number of accused and convicted criminal offenders monitored with electronic tracking devices in the United States increased 140 percent between 2005 and 2015, from approximately 53,000 to more than 125,000.  Extrapolating from the 96 percent market share of the companies that participated in the survey, the 2015 total probably exceeded 131,000.

The survey also shows that a sharp increase in the use of GPS technology accounted for all of the 10-year growth in electronic tracking, more than offsetting a decline in the use of RF devices.  In 2015, manufacturers reported that about 88,000 GPS units were being used for supervision of accused and convicted offenders, a thirtyfold increase from the roughly 2,900 reported a decade earlier. By contrast, the number of active RF units fell 25 percent, from more than 50,000 to below 38,000.  These findings are consistent with published studies that suggest RF devices are giving way to technology that can track offenders in real time.

Despite the substantial growth of electronic tracking during the study period, it remains relatively rare in the context of the U.S. corrections system.  Nationally, nearly 7 million people were in prison or jail or on probation or parole at the end of 2014, but individuals tracked using electronic devices in 2015 represented less than 2 percent of that total. Although some research suggests that electronic monitoring can help reduce reoffending rates, the expanded use of these technologies has occurred largely in the absence of data demonstrating their effectiveness for various types of offenders at different stages of the criminal justice process.

September 9, 2016 at 02:47 PM | Permalink


Perhaps the fact that offenders usually have to pay the monthly fees for monitoring with GPS trackers may be the reason the total percentage is so low.
Who can afford it?

Posted by: kat | Sep 9, 2016 5:07:06 PM

This excerpt demonstrates the important of technological advancement and how they can be a tool for law enforcement and the Courts. Although, no studies were conducted as to their effectiveness, I would presume that they would be an excellent individual deterrent for would-be re-offenders. Its also cost-effective.

Posted by: Ismail Mohamed | Sep 10, 2016 7:15:53 PM

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