Thursday, December 10, 2009

Interesting sign of the modern high-tech sentencing times

I came across this interesting and telling press release, titled "Leading Strategic Litigation Communication Firm Now Producing Pre-Sentencing Video Biography," when scanning the news this morning. Here are snippets:

Colton Creative, the national leader in strategic litigation communication, announces that the firm is now offering pre-sentencing biography production. Recognized as the leading producer of "day in the life" and "video settlement brochures" in the United States, Colton Creative President Andrew Colton says pre-sentencing mitigation videos is a logical product offering of his company.

"We've been asked several times by clients if we could apply the broadcast network news magazine style we use for our litigation videos to documentaries showing the good things that people facing jail or prison time have accomplished in their lives."...

Colton Creative's pre-sentencing videos are custom made and can run anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour -- following rules set by the specific Judge running the case in question.  They feature interviews with family, friends, and provide an in-depth look at why incarceration is not appropriate.

I think it makes sense for me to file this post in my "white-collar sentencing" archive, as I doubt all that many defendants other than those involved in white-collar offenses are likely to have the resources to hire this firm. 

December 10, 2009 in Offender Characteristics, Technocorrections, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Monday, November 23, 2009

The many new tech challenges surrounding the monitoring of old and new sex offenders

This morning's Washington Post has this fascinating and important new article headlined "Tracking sex-crime offenders gets trickier: Violator registry is growing as tech-savvy predators put a greater burden on officers." Here are excerpts:

The nationwide crackdown on child pornography and other sex offenses has created severe manpower shortages and technology challenges for probation officers, police and federal agents struggling to track offenders who are jumping online with cellphones and portable game systems and flocking to social networking and other sites, where children or pornography can easily be found.

There are more than 716,000 registered sex offenders nationwide, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, a 78 percent increase since 2001, and that does not include all offenders because some crimes do not require registration.  Sex-offender registries have grown even faster in the Washington area, with more than 24,000 people listed....

The focus on crimes against children that began in the Bush administration shows no sign of abating under President Obama. Federal child sexual exploitation prosecutions are up 147 percent since 2002, and the Justice Department is hiring 81 more prosecutors for these cases.  Funding for task forces that bring charges in state courts rose this year from $16 million to $75 million.

But many of those offenders are now leaving prison, even as revenue-strapped states are cutting the budgets of probation departments.  In Virginia, probation and parole cuts this year totaled nearly $10 million, including $500,000 for electronic monitoring of sexually violent predators.  Maryland also has cut its budget. "The burden on probation and parole officers is going to explode," said Ernie Allen, the national center's president.

The monitoring of virtually all sex offenders is required by law when they are on probation or parole. The problem has gained national attention with the discovery of 10 bodies and a skull at a registered sex offender's home in Cleveland and revelations that Jaycee Lee Dugard was kidnapped at age 11 in 1991 and allegedly held captive at a California sex offender's house until her reappearance in August.  Officers had visited both homes and noticed nothing wrong.

Those cases underscore a troubled registry system that has been the public face of sex-offender monitoring.  An estimated 100,000 offenders do not comply with registration requirements. Law enforcement doesn't know where many of them are.

But the most alarming development for officers is proliferating electronic gadgets and the temptations they pose to sex offenders.  A man on probation in Iowa for molesting a 9-year-old girl, for example, was recently caught downloading pornographic images of a young girl on his PlayStation Portable -- while walking to his probation appointment.

Sometimes, offenders cannot be monitored even while in custody.  David L. Franklin, a church deacon, pleaded guilty in federal court to sending child pornography to an undercover D.C. police detective.  While awaiting sentencing, Franklin struck up another online conversation with the same detective, who traced the defendant to an unusual address -- the D.C. Correctional Treatment Facility.  Franklin had smuggled a cellphone into his jail cell and was on his bunk, online, when guards grabbed it, sources familiar with the case said.

November 23, 2009 in Sex Offender Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Thursday, October 22, 2009

New York Times editorial calls for ignition locks for all drunk drivers

This morning's New York Times has this new editorial headlined "Progress on Drunken Driving."  Here are excerpts:

An enlightened measure signed this month by California’s Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, will require those convicted of drunken driving — including first-time offenders — to install special devices that prevent cars from operating if the driver is drunk.  The large pilot program, which covers the 14 million people living in Los Angeles, Sacramento and two other counties, adds important momentum to the national campaign by Mothers Against Drunk Driving to expand the use of the life-saving technology.

Mandating the ignition-interlock devices for all drunken-driving offenders is smart safety policy. Once installed, the vehicle will not start until the driver first blows into the device and registers an alcohol level below the legal limit. Offenders who commute to work by car can keep their jobs, but they cannot drink and drive....

There are 11 states that require both first offenders and repeaters to use ignition-interlock devices for an assigned period. Most programs were enacted in the past two years, and the data are still building. But for California, where recidivists make up more than a quarter of annual drunken-driving arrests, the dramatic results logged in New Mexico are encouraging.  Between 2004 and 2008, New Mexico experienced a 65 percent drop in drunken-driving recidivism.  Drunken-driving fatalities in the state dropped 35 percent.

California’s large-scale embrace of interlocks should help embolden lawmakers in states like New York, where similar proposals face predictable, shortsighted opposition from the alcohol industry. Congress should also take action by conditioning federal highway money on requiring ignition interlocks for all convicted drunken-driving offenders.

Like the NY Times, I am a big fan of this technocorrections approach to tackling the pernicious problems of drunk driving.  I hope that there will be continued positive results in jurisdictions like New Mexico that have been at the forefront of this form of technocorrections.

Some related posts on sentencing drunk drivers:

October 22, 2009 in Offense Characteristics, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Monday, October 12, 2009

The reach of technocorrections in our modern society

I have often blogged about the inevitability of different forms of technocorrections becoming a more regular part of our daily lives, and a few of today's national and internation headlines reinforce my basic instincts on these fronts:

October 12, 2009 in Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Friday, October 09, 2009

How might we punish "semi-voluntary acts"?

The question of this post is prompted by this new paper from Professor Deborah Denno that I just saw on SSRN.  The title of this paper is "Consciousness and Culpability in American Criminal Law," and here is the abstract:

American law requires a voluntary act or omission before assigning criminal liability. The law also presumes that an individual who is unconscious, such as a sleepwalker, is incapable of a voluntary act. For some criminal defendants in the United States this all-or-nothing approach to the voluntary act requirement can mean the difference between unqualified acquittal if they are found to have acted involuntarily, lengthy institutionalization if they are found to be insane, and incarceration or even the death penalty if their acts are found to be voluntary. In contrast to the law’s dual dichotomies of voluntary/involuntary and conscious/unconscious, modern neuroscientific research indicates that the boundaries between our conscious and unconscious states are permeable, dynamic, and interactive. To enable the law to join science in a more nuanced and just view of the human mind, this article proposes that, in addition to voluntary and involuntary acts, the criminal law recognize a third category — semi-voluntary acts.

I am inclined, even without having a chance to read the whole paper, to embrace this proposed third category of semi-voluntary acts as a way to describe some wrongful behavior for criminal law purposes.  But that then just requires turning to the really hard question of how semi-voluntary acts ought to be punished.  Should perhaps alternative sentences or technocorrections or other novel punishment be the presumptive response to this new category of consciousness and culpability?

October 9, 2009 in Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Schools embrace sex-offender scanners despite costs of this form of technocorrections

This article from today's Philadelphia Inquirer reports on the hottest new school accessory this fall:

The three mothers waiting to meet with the principal looked harmless enough, but before they were allowed into the Spring-Ford district school, they had to undergo a computerized background check. The women gave their driver's licenses to a secretary, who scanned them against a national sex-offender database....

So far, parents like it, administrators say, proof that after a decade marked by the Columbine massacres, the 9/11 attacks and high-profile child sex crimes, nothing may be "too much" when it comes to child security, regardless of the cost or intrusiveness.

"I never want to be the superintendent who has to tell a parent something happened to their kid," Spring-Ford superintendent Marsha Hurda said during a demonstration of the system, installed in 13 school buildings this year at a cost of about $1,500 each.

Raptor Technologies Inc., the Houston company that makes the system, said it's been installed in 6,000 schools nationwide since it was created seven years ago as a visitor-management system for Enron Corp. In addition to flagging sex offenders, the system manages the flow of visitors and keeps track of their whereabouts. It also alerts staff to parents who are involved in custody disputes or subject to restraining orders.

Visitors who clear the sex-offender registry are sent on their way and told to check out when they leave. But if there's a match, school administrators, and sometimes police, are notified. If there's a legitimate reason for the visit, such as a teacher conference, the visitor is allowed in with an escort. Participating in other school functions, such as volunteering in class or chaperoning a field trip, is generally not allowed.

"Even if you are a parent and are on one of these Megan's Law lists, you are not allowed to come in and freely visit our buildings," said Methacton School District superintendent Terry Quinn. Or, as Julie Mullin, a Spring-Ford Area School District board member and mother of seventh-grade twins, said, "I don't want them reading to my kid."

Interest in the scanners, and a half-dozen others from other companies, comes amid a growing national debate over whether the ever-swelling lists of registered sex offenders - 674,000 by the last estimate - are really that helpful or simply provide a false sense of security. The company says its software identified 1,700 convicted sex offenders at schools last year.

Civil libertarians note that from 80 to 90 percent of people who victimize children are someone the children already know, such as a parent, family friend or coach. "It certainly can be helpful," Kristen Anderson, a spokeswoman for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said of the technology, "but it's no substitute for good common-sense protocols and parenting."

Lauren Taylor, executive director of the Pennsylvania Sexual Offenders' Assessment Board, said the idea that a molester would wander into a school to harm a child is "a very unlikely scenario." It's more important to thoroughly vet those who come in close contact with children, such as teachers, health-care workers, and janitorial staff. "I'm not sure the bang for the buck is there," she said of the security devices.

September 29, 2009 in Sex Offender Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Could and should new technologies help achieve perfect deterrence?

This amusing article, which is headlined "Fantasy iPhone applications: 20 apps we would like to see," provides a technology suggestion that might help criminal deterrence work even better:

Below we present 20 iPhone apps that we would like to see.  Some will remain the stuff of fantasy without bolt-on hardware, but others should not be too difficult for developers to create....

6) Jail time

Provides instant sentencing guidelines for the most common offences, so would-be criminals can make informed choices. 

I like this idea so much, I am inclined to support its development beyond just an iPhone application.  What if a program like this was pre-loaded on to every computer and could provide a pop-up window every time a computer user seemed to be doing something hinky?  I  would certainly like to believe that many folks would stop using their computers for sex crimes if they were effectively informed about how harsh the guideline sentencing ranges have become for these crimes in the federal system.

September 26, 2009 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Friday, 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 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Thursday, September 24, 2009

State judge makes pitch for ignition locks for drunk drivers

Thanks to a helpful commentor, I just noticed this terrific Slate piece in which a retired state court judge makes an effective pitch for one of my favorite modern technocorrection punishment : ignition locks for drunk drivers.  The piece is headlined "Baby, You Can't Drive Your Car: A judge's favorite punishment for drunken drivers—ignition-interlock," and it discusses lots of legal reform issues that transcend just how to deal with drunk drivers:

On May 28, 1987, I became the first judge in the state of California to order convicted drunken drivers to install ignition-interlock devices in their cars.  The device is designed to stop people who have been drinking alcohol from starting their cars by requiring them first to blow into it.  If there is alcohol on the driver's breath, the device will not allow the ignition system to operate.

Ordering convicted drunken drivers to install these devices seems to me a matter of common sense and basic safety.  But in fact, the matter proved far more complicated.  The California courts may soon require judges to follow my lead on ignition-interlock sentencing.  But it has taken more than 20 years and new legislation, which is on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk awaiting his signature. Why has it taken so long?  And why do we need a law mandating such an obvious safety measure when judges could put it into effect themselves?

My own history suggests one unsettling answer.  Early on, my fellow judges did not support my ignition-interlock sentences. Judges, no less than the rest of us, resist change. My colleagues who were assigned to calendars filled with drunken driving charges wanted to dispose of these cases quickly and quietly, obtaining guilty pleas as early in the process as possible. Completing the additional paperwork that went with ignition-interlock devices did not sit well with them.

Then came the totally unexpected opposition from the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. In their view, the ignition-interlock devices weren't punitive enough; they preferred more jail time for drunken drivers. Incarceration, however, is a temporary remedy. As the recidivism numbers clearly demonstrate, convicted drunken drivers return to the roads in numbers too great to ignore.

And finally, in my own court, as I continued to order the installation of ignition-interlock systems, I started to worry about fairness, since the devices are expensive....

Today, almost all 50 states have laws permitting the imposition of ignition-interlock devices as sentencing alternatives for drunken drivers. The devices have a proven track record as an effective deterrent.  The American Journal of Preventive Medicine notes that five out of six studies found that interlocks reduced the rate of recidivism for DWI charges.  Participants in the interlock programs were 15 percent to 69 percent less likely than other offenders to be rearrested for drunken driving.

And yet, as a recent New York Times op-ed noted, while the effectiveness of the devices is clear, judges often fail to order the installations, even when the law requires it. Anecdotally, you can take your pick of explanations: too much paperwork; too much court time to review the results of the breath printouts; opposition to any other sentencing options other than jail; ignorance of the fact that this is a sentencing alternative.  In any case, just as convicted drunken drivers must be made to use the devices, judges must be made to order them.  The well-documented carnage on our highways and the tremendous economic impact wreaked upon us by drunken drivers are far too great to leave to judicial whim.

In California, the bill on the governor's desk, which passed earlier this month, would require judges to order the installation of ignition-interlock devices in the vehicles of convicted first-time and repeat drunken drivers, as a pilot project in the counties of Los Angeles, Alameda, Sacramento, and Tulare.  If Gov. Schwarzenegger signs the bill, the pilot program would start in July 2010 and become statewide law in 2016.  This legislation is supported by a wide array of law enforcement agencies, including MADD, which has changed its stance on ignition-interlock sentencing.

Schwarzenegger should sign the bill. It will make our judges better.  And it will make our streets safer.  Finally.

There are so many important insights and lessons to be drawn from this story, especially as it relates to the institutional status quo biases that often prevents sensible and effective sentencing and punishment reforms from gaining traction.  Here is hoping not only that ignition locks soon become a standard punishment term for drunk driving, but also that this story helps folks interested in "smart on crime" reforms to understand the structural challenges that make even the soundest sentencing changes hard to achieve.

Some related posts on sentencing drunk drivers:

September 24, 2009 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The technical challenges posed by technocorrections

I just discovered this local article out of Florida last week, which is headlined "Judge: Hairspray falsely triggered alcohol-monitoring device." For fans of technocorrections, this story is a bit sobering:

A 17-year-old girl’s alcohol-monitoring device was triggered by continued exposure to hairspray, not consumption to alcohol, a judge ruled Thursday. “Based on the evidentiary hearing today, the court would find that it appears that the detection made by (the alcohol-monitoring device) was a false positive and so, based upon that, I’m not going to revoke her pre-trial release,” Walton County Circuit Judge Kelvin Wells said.

Elyse Tirico, formerly Elyse Bushee, is charged with DUI manslaughter and DUI with serious bodily injury in connection with a Jan. 4 accident that killed 16-year-old Meghan Burkhart-Smith, a fellow student at South Walton High School. Her trial originally was scheduled to begin on Monday but has been continued to Jan. 11, 2010.... Tirico has been wearing the anklet since late March under a court order.

Jeff Hawthorne, who is the co-founder of Alcohol Monitoring Systems Inc. and who invented the SCRAM (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor) anklet, testified at the hearing. He said SCRAM detects blood-alcohol levels through perspiration. The device takes readings every 30 minutes, Hawthorne said. It issued an alert July 15 after three separate readings showed that Tirico’s blood-alcohol level was above .02.

But under questioning by defense attorney Clay Adkinson, Hawthorne said an alert could have been issued even if Tirico had not consumed alcohol. He said wearers of the device are given a list of so-called “banned products” that contain alcohol — including certain toiletries, perfumes and cleaning supplies — in order to avoid false alerts. When Adkinson asked whether continual exposure to hair spray might trigger an alert, Hawthorne said it might.

The detection device showed that alcohol was in Tirico’s system from 9:38 a.m. to 6:48 p.m. July 15, but Hawthorne said he had no way of knowing where Tirico was during those hours.  Tirico works as a receptionist at a hair salon in Miramar Beach. Adkinson said that the alert was triggered by hairspray, which she was exposed to July 15.  He also presented several affidavits from people who said they were with her early that day and that she did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol.

Interestingly, the private company that produce the alcohol-monitoring device has this new press release concerning this case, which includes these statements:

The manufacturer of SCRAM alcohol bracelets is countering reports that their alcohol-sensing ankle bracelets falsely confirmed a drinking event because of exposure to hairspray for a Florida defendant out on bond for a DUI manslaughter and DUI with serious bodily injury case. The bracelets, worn 24/7, sample an offender's perspiration every 30 minutes in order to measure for alcohol consumption.

According to Colorado-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS), the confusion is based on the difference between an "alert" generated by a product like hairspray and an actual confirmed drinking event. The company reports that due to procedural issues at the hearing, the judge did not hear evidence to explain the difference between an environmental exposure to hairspray and actual consumption, resulting in confusion in the ruling and reports about the case. Notably, Judge Kevin Wells ordered the defendant to continue wearing the SCRAM Bracelet.

AMS President and CEO Mike Iiams says that alcohol-containing products like hairspray will oftentimes generate an alert, but that the SCRAM System can easily distinguish between exposure to environmental alcohol and actual consumption....

Launched to the corrections market in 2003, SCRAM has monitored 110,000 offenders in 47 states and more than 1,900 jurisdictions. AMS is the only electronic monitoring company in the criminal justice system to provide in-depth court support and expert testimony.

September 15, 2009 in Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Should we embrace or fear videoconferencing in corrections?

This fascintating article at Stateline.org, which is headlined "States expand videoconferencing in prisons," prompts the question in the title of this post.  Here are snippets from the article:

Faced with the high costs of transporting and escorting sick inmates to the doctor, states are expanding their use of videoconferencing to provide health consultations to prisoners without resorting to costly — and sometimes dangerous — off-site trips....  Elsewhere, videoconferencing in prisons and jails is replacing inmates’ in-person trips to the courtroom or parole board, and even the way family members visit.

Supporters say the technology saves money when few states have funds to spare; Arizona, for instance, saved $237,000 in 2008 by using telemedicine at nine correctional facilities, according to the state Department of Corrections.

But some have criticized the expansion of videoconferencing.  Relying on technology to keep inmates behind bars makes them “disappear more and more from the public consciousness, and I think there’s a (negative) long-term consequence of that,” said Nancy Stoller, a professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz and the coordinator of a jail and prison task force at the American Public Health Association....

Telemedicine and telepsychiatry work by letting inmates and doctors communicate with each other using interactive, real-time audio and video links. The practice — which has been praised by the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care — is most often used for consultation, not treatment....

Many states also are using videoconferencing to avoid transporting prisoners to court for arraignments and other initial appearances, according to Greg Hurley, an analyst with the National Center for State Courts, which researches court trends across the nation. Parole hearings also can be conducted by videoconference.

Connecticut last year finished installing videoconferencing equipment at all 18 of its state correctional facilities and the state’s court system is studying ways to expand the practice. The state’s corrections commissioner, Theresa Lantz, noted that videoconferencing saves the state money it would otherwise have to spend on vehicles, gasoline, correctional officers and overtime.

Illinois and other states also are looking at videoconferencing to let prisoners talk with family members who might not be able to make the trip to visit them in person....  The Pennsylvania Prison Society, a nonprofit advocacy group, has partnered with the state Department of Corrections since 2001 to allow inmates’ families to come to the organization’s offices and speak on a video link with their loved ones serving time.  A 55-minute session costs the family $20, according to the group’s Web site.

On these kinds of issues, I am always inclinded to embrace technology and innovation unless and until a strong argument can be made to preserve the status quo.  Among other benefits, as this Stateline article hints, new technologies and innovation tends (at least initially) to avoid the usual (and usually destructive) left/right rhetorical divides that often can thwart useful reforms.

May 13, 2009 in Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Saturday, May 09, 2009

A closer look at the pros and cons of GPS tracking for abusers

As regular readers know, I believe GPS tracking and other forms of technocorrections are certain to be a larger and larger component of the criminal justice future.  I was thus pleased and intrigued to see this new piece in the New York Times, headlined "More States Using GPS to Track Abusers and Stalkers."  Here are a few excerpts: 

In Massachusetts, where about one-quarter of restraining orders are violated each year, according to the state’s probation office, a recent law has expanded the use of global positioning devices to include domestic abusers and stalkers who have violated orders of protection....

Twelve other states have passed similar legislation — most recently, Indiana this week — and about 5,000 domestic abusers are being tracked nationwide, said George Drake, who oversees Colorado’s Electronic Monitoring Resource Center, which gathers data from equipment vendors.

But the path to the system’s widespread use has been bumpy.  It is still hard to protect families who live in rural areas or where there are not enough police officers to respond quickly.  With the economic downturn, states have cut money for training the police and judges in GPS use, and some places with legislation in place say they cannot afford it.

It is up to a judge, in cases of extreme violence, to decide whether to order its use before trial, as a condition of bail or as a sentence. That has led to complaints by the American Civil Liberties Union and others of too much leeway for judges. “Until they know how GPS can be used and how successful it can be, judges are reluctant to order it because it’s unfamiliar,” said Judge Peter Doyle of Newburyport District Court. “Without seminars and convincing presentations, I wouldn’t have been comfortable ordering it.”...

Often the only way victims can prove that they are being stalked, experts say, is through new technologies like GPS....  Experts say the program can help save lives.  Domestic-violence-related homicides increased 300 percent in Massachusetts from 2005 to 2007, according to Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, while in Newburyport, where a High Risk Team was in place, there were no such homicides in that period.

“Using GPS monitoring to enforce an order of protection makes the order more than just a piece of paper,” said Diane Rosenfeld, a lecturer at Harvard Law School and a longtime advocate of using GPS in domestic abuse cases. “It’s a way of making the criminal justice system treat domestic violence as potentially serious. By detecting any escalation in the behavior of a batterer, GPS can prevent these unnecessary tragedies.” Ms. Rosenfeld’s research found that about one quarter of women who were killed by their domestic abusers already had restraining orders.

Some older posts on GPS tracking and related technocorrections:

May 9, 2009 in Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Friday, February 27, 2009

Useful reading for technocorrections fans (or foes)

As I have noted in prior posts (many linked here), the future of crime and punishment will include all sort of technocorrections for economic reasons if not for lots of others.  Thus, it is important for both theorists and practitioners to be thinking proactively now about the future of technology and criminal punishment, whether one is a fan or foe of technocorrections.  Such thinking can be aided by this interesting book chapter appearing on SSRN, titled "Crime Control Technologies: Towards an Analytical Framework and Research Agenda." Here is the abstract:

The substantive focus of this chapter — crime control technologies — can be stated simply enough, but this simplicity is deceptive for several reasons.  Firstly, technology — which we define as the application of scientific knowledge, materials, techniques, systems, methods of organisation and the use of electronic and mechanical devices — is ubiquitous in contemporary criminal justice, as it is in many other spheres of human activity. Therefore the range of types of technical devices that we might write about is extremely wide.  Secondly, as Marx suggests, throughout history crime control has been a motor for technological innovation in many apparently unrelated areas; therefore the boundaries of the field are fuzzy.  Thirdly, the range of technological applications in the criminological field is incredibly wide and includes the management and communication of information, physical defence against crime, surveillance, public order maintenance, crime prevention and detection, criminal justice administration, and punishment.

We have, it seems, carved out an impossibly wide brief and can do little more here than to provide a descriptive overview of the technological applications studied by criminologists, to describe the legal framework within which crime control technologies are developing, to raise some questions about the ways in which technology is changing the criminal justice system as a system and make some suggestions for inter-disciplinary research.

February 27, 2009 in Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"Sex Offenders' GPS Devices Not a Silver Bullet, States Say"

The title of this post is the title of this intriguing article from the site Government Technology.  Here are excerpts from the start of a piece that is a must-read for anyone hoping (or fearing) that GPS tracking is the future of corrections:

GPS monitoring -- embraced as a simple technological solution for tracking the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders -- is proving to be something less than a silver bullet for state and local public safety agencies.

Convinced that GPS monitoring was the answer to the sex offender problem, judges and lawmakers began mandating the technology for high-profile parolees. Beginning in 2005, the technology was widely deployed as means to ensure that offenders complied with the terms of their release, such as staying a safe distance from schools or a victim's home.

Monitoring systems typically consist of a GPS receiver/portable tracking device, radio frequency transmitter, stationary charging unit, cellular telephone and computer software to review GPS data. The devices allow officials to track the parolees' whereabouts -- when everything works properly and when offender cooperates.

But there are problems with the way the technology is used and monitored.  False alarms number in the thousands in some jurisdictions, straining manpower and casting doubt on the viability of GPS as a tracking tool for high-profile felons.

In Arizona, a 2007 legislative study found more than 35,000 false alerts by 140 subjects wearing the GPS-monitoring devices.  In California, the percentage of transient parolees, those who've been declared homeless, has increased by 900 percent since a law was passed that included GPS as part of the solution.  Now, officials say, they're guessing about where the offenders are because more have become transient and the GPS monitoring can be unreliable, especially when the offenders lack real housing where they can charge the devices....

Though public safety officials typically agree that GPS is a valuable tool, they say it's not a replacement for personal contact with the subject, his co-workers, family and friends that keeps the offender honest.

Some related posts on GPS tracking and related technocorrections:

January 27, 2009 in Sex Offender Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Friday, December 26, 2008

Who bears the costs when a prison goes digital?

Especially since I am planning a trip to my local electronics store this afternoon, I could not resist posting this little article I saw thanks to How Appealing.  The report is headlined, "R.I. state prison gears up for the switch to digital on 1,500 TVs," and here is how it starts:

Ask Corrections Director A.T. Wall about the importance of televisions in keeping prisons peaceful and he will paraphrase an old saying: “Idleness is the devil’s workshop.” “An idle inmate can pose a security risk,” Wall says. “We want to keep them occupied, and the opportunity to watch television is one way we do it.”

Which is why the Department of Corrections is spending $175,000 between now and Feb. 17 to rewire the Adult Correctional Institutions and make sure the screens of 1,500 inmate televisions don’t all revert to white static when the nation’s broadcasters switch from analog to digital signals.

And that is only one step. The inmates themselves will have to either come up with $69 for a converter box to use on their existing television or buy a new 13-inch television from the prison commissary for $160 (with the see-through plastic back, of course).

While some prisons around the country have subsidized the cost for inmates to stay connected, Wall said “with the state’s current fiscal climate I’m not willing to use taxpayer money to purchase converter boxes for the inmate population.” Neither is Massachusetts. “No taxpayer funds are being used for inmates’ televisions,” said Diane Wiffin, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Corrections.

December 26, 2008 in Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Crime victims and technocorrections

This new article from my local paper, headlined "Ohio upgrades criminal tracking system for victims," shines an effective spotlight on how concerns for crime victims will further propel the move toward technocorrections.  Here are the basics:

Crime victims will be able to find out when an inmate is released with the help of upcoming changes to Ohio's criminal tracking system. State officials say a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice will allow Ohio to upgrade its current tracking system by 2010.

"It will empower victims and allow them more control over their own situation and safety," said Matt Hellman, administrator of the Ohio attorney general's office of victim services. "If they need to, they can make plans for their own safety and for the safety of friends and family."

Victims already can check the status of current inmates still in prison through the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's internal tracking system and by phone and e-mail through a national automated information and notification network. That system provides information on changes to an inmate's status, including releases, transfers, escapes and deaths.

The enhancements to the system - known as Victim Information and Notification Everyday, or VINE - will allow victims to follow offenders' movements after they're released on parole or probation. The system also tracks inmates who are moved to the state's intensive prison program, which puts prisoners through specialized education and treatment, allowing them to possibly earn earlier release dates....

Ohio was one of the first states to offer the system, implementing it in 1998, according to the state attorney general's office. State officials say the system was used nearly 1 million times in 2007 to check on the custody status of Ohio inmates or receive notification of changes in that status. The program is a free and anonymous computer-based service available to anyone 24 hours a day.

December 2, 2008 in Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack