Saturday, September 18, 2010

Massachusetts SJC splits over when GPS tracking can be added to sex offender sentence

As detailed in this local article, which is headlined "GPS tracking limited by SJC: Rules in case of sex offender; Sets conditions for probation use," a split high court in Massachusetts concluded yesterday that state judges "cannot change probation conditions for convicted sex offenders by requiring them to wear GPS monitoring devices unless the former inmates have violated the terms of their release." Here are the particulars:

In a 4-to-3 decision, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld a lower court judge who refused to add GPS monitoring and a ban on visits to playgrounds, schools, and libraries to the probation restrictions of a former Lowell man who spent about 20 years locked up for the abduction and rape of a 7-year-old boy.

Prosecutors and lawyers for the man agreed that he had not violated any conditions of probation when the judge rejected the request by the state Probation Department in August 2009. “Here, the judge correctly found that there had been no material change in the defendant’s circumstances after the terms of probation were initially imposed that would justify the proposed additional probation condition of GPS monitoring and exclusion zones," Justice Ralph D. Gants wrote for the majority.

As the case was winding its way through the courts, the convicted sex offender, Ralph W. Goodwin, violated the terms of his probation on June 30 by failing to attend a day program as part of his mental health treatment plan, according to his appellate lawyer, Jeannine E. Mercure of Lowell. As a result, another judge ordered Goodwin to wear a GPS device, although she did not restrict where he can go.

Nonetheless, yesterday’s ruling sets limits on when judges can require GPS monitoring for freed sex offenders who were convicted years before the devices became a common condition of probation imposed at sentencing. The Probation Department currently monitors 730 freed sex offenders with GPS, according to Coria A. Holland, a department spokeswoman.

Yesterday’s ruling complements a 4-to-3 decision the high court issued in August 2009. In that case, the SJC held that a 2006 state law requiring convicted sex offenders to wear GPS devices while on probation could not automatically be applied retroactively to defendants convicted before the statute went into effect. The majority said the devices create an unconstitutional burden on the individuals’ freedom....

In a one-paragraph dissent yesterday, [Justice] Ireland wrote that he continues to believe that requiring people on probation to wear the device is “remedial rather than punitive" and should be allowed.

The court’s ruling drew criticism from law enforcement officials and victims’ rights advocates but praise from defense lawyers.

The full ruling in Massachusetts v. Goodwin is available at this link.

September 18, 2010 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Monday, September 13, 2010

"Zapping Inmates To Control Them: Harmless Or Torture?"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent NPR story which discusses the latest hot new technology that hopes to help to keep prisoners in line.  Here are excerpts:

Los Angeles authorities have unveiled a new high-tech device designed to control rowdy inmates: a mechanism that blasts millimeter beams that simulate intense heat. At the Pitchess Detention Center, north of Los Angeles, officials recently showed off their latest tool, which resembles a supersized dental X-ray machine with a flat screen on top. It works like something out of Star Trek.

"You know when they set their phasers to stun, they did that so they didn't kill people? Well, that's exactly what this is. It does stun you," says Mike Booen, a vice president of Raytheon Missile Systems. The company built the device for the Los Angeles County Jail, a scaled-down version of what it designed for the military.

"I don't care if you're the meanest, toughest person in the world," he says, "this will get your attention and make your brain focus on making it stop, rather than doing whatever you were planning on doing."...

Dave Judge, the operation deputy for the sheriff's department, says the machine is more effective than their usual methods of firing rubber bullets and tear gas grenades. "This is tame; this is mild," Judge says. "This is a great way to intervene without causing any harm. The nice thing about this is it allows you to intervene at a distance."...

Raytheon's Booen says the device sends out millimeter waves, creating a harmless, but intense sensation. "It penetrates about a 64th of an inch under your skin," Booen explains. "That's about where your pain receptacles are. So it's what it would feel like if you just opened up the doors of a blast furnace. You feel this wave of heat immediately."...

Three years ago, the Department of Defense demonstrated a bigger version of the device it considered using. During one simulation, it repelled a pretend group of protesters with the "Active Denial System" direct energy weapon mounted on a military vehicle.The U.S. Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Programs reportedly never actually used the device in Afghanistan, but a spokeswoman says they are considering related technology.

Now, Los Angeles has been given a smaller, civilian version of the same device free. But the ACLU says that's a bad idea. "We're going to use people in the jails as guinea pigs for some mega arms builder to test their device," ACLU attorney Peter Eliasberg says.

He sent a letter to L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca asking him to reconsider using what he says has the potential to be a torture device.... Eliasberg says some tests of the millimeter device have badly burned people with repeated zaps. And he notes that Los Angeles deputies have a documented history of abusing inmates. Eliasberg suggests a better solution would be to prevent the overcrowded conditions that trigger jail riots in the first place.

September 13, 2010 in Prisons and prisoners, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Monday, August 23, 2010

Texas counties having success with home-detention technocorrections alternative punishment

This local story from Texas provides another example of all the cost-saving innovations in corrections finding a measure of success in the Lone Star State.  The piece is headlined "Dallas County's alternative sentencing program lets low-level offenders do time at home," and here is how it starts:

What's the difference between a stark jail cell and the comforts of home? For a few lucky Dallas County criminals, the answer is nothing.  Under the county's alternative sentencing plan, certain low-level offenders discharge their sentences under ankle-monitored house arrest, giving them the opportunity to keep their jobs, eat home-cooked meals and enjoy the interaction of family and friends.

"I think the program is better than jail," said Arletha Baker, who was released from the program's restrictions recently. "You get to touch your family. ... I have a very helpful family."

Alternative sentencing is also helping Dallas County's bottom line. Since its inception Sept. 1, it has saved the county $366,016. And officials expect that figure to reach $400,000 by the initiative's first anniversary in two weeks. That's double the $200,000 budgeted by county commissioners last year to launch the program, which they approved after observing a similar program in Brazos County.

Designed to replace the old work-release program that allowed offenders to work during the day and then return to jail on nights and weekends, alternative sentencing is used for criminals with offenses ranging from misdemeanors such as hot-check writing, low-level theft and DWIs to state jail felonies that have been reduced to misdemeanors.

Notably, as the article details, this form of alternative sentencing incorporates technocorrections and it "is not without critics":

Kevin Brooks, chief of the felony trial bureau for the district attorney's office, said, "There are real concerns" with the program and that the DA's office does not support it. He said it does not help public safety and that participating offenders are "not being punished for the offense they're convicted of."

He said he would prefer a revamped work-release program in which offenders paid the full cost to the county. "Where's the punishment for your offense, [if they] have the creature comforts of home?" Brooks said.

But County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who heads the county's jail population committee, said "You can't lock up the world. At the end of the day, you've got to manage your resources." Offenders, who are called clients, pay about 90 percent or more of the cost for their monitoring equipment, as opposed to the $10 per day work-release offenders paid the county.

"The monitoring fees come out to a reasonable amount," said Rebekah Truxal, program manager for alternative sentencing.  She said the cost is $8 to $10 per day for most clients, plus the cost of keeping an active home phone during their sentence.  For DWI cases, judges can require additional monitoring that increases the cost.

The monitors are programmed to allow clients to travel to their jobs or school, if they are students, at certain times of day and then return directly home.  They are accurate to within three feet, officials say.

August 23, 2010 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Terrific piece in The Atlantic on "Prison Without Walls"

The September issue of The Atlantic magazine includes this terrific piece focused on technocorrections like GPS tracking under the headline "Prison Without Walls." The lengthy piece is a must-read and here is a long excerpt that highlights some reasons why I have been talking up the future of technocorrections for years:

GPS devices ... are looking like an appealing alternative to conventional incarceration, as it becomes ever clearer that, in the United States at least, traditional prison has become more or less synonymous with failed prison.  By almost any metric, our practice of locking large numbers of people behind bars has proved at best ineffective and at worst a national disgrace. According to a recent Pew report, 2.3 million Americans are currently incarcerated — enough people to fill the city of Houston.  Since 1983, the number of inmates has more than tripled and the total cost of corrections has jumped sixfold, from $10.4 billion to $68.7 billion.  In California, the cost per inmate has kept pace with the cost of an Ivy League education, at just shy of $50,000 a year.

This might make some sense if crime rates had also tripled.  But they haven’t: rather, even as crime has fallen, the sentences served by criminals have grown, thanks in large part to mandatory minimums and draconian three-strikes rules — politically popular measures that have shown little deterrent effect but have left the prison system overflowing with inmates.  The vogue for incarceration might also make sense if the prisons repaid society’s investment by releasing reformed inmates who behaved better than before they were locked up.  But that isn’t the case either: half of those released are back in prison within three years. Indeed, research by the economists Jesse Shapiro of the University of Chicago and M. Keith Chen of Yale indicates that the stated purpose of incarceration, which is to place prisoners under harsh conditions on the assumption that they will be “scared straight,” is actively counterproductive.  Such conditions — and U.S. prisons are astonishingly harsh, with as many as 20 percent of male inmates facing sexual assault — typically harden criminals, making them more violent and predatory.  Essentially, when we lock someone up today, we are agreeing to pay a large (and growing) sum of money merely to put off dealing with him until he is released in a few years, often as a greater menace to society than when he went in.

Devices such as the ExacuTrack, along with other advances in both the ways we monitor criminals and the ways we punish them for their transgressions, suggest a revolutionary possibility: that we might turn the conventional prison system inside out for a substantial number of inmates, doing away with the current, expensive array of guards and cells and fences, in favor of a regimen of close, constant surveillance on the outside and swift, certain punishment for any deviations from an established, legally unobjectionable routine.  The potential upside is enormous.  Not only might such a system save billions of dollars annually, it could theoretically produce far better outcomes, training convicts to become law-abiders rather than more-ruthless lawbreakers.  The ultimate result could be lower crime rates, at a reduced cost, and with considerably less inhumanity in the bargain.

Moreover, such a change would in fact be less radical than it might at first appear.  An underappreciated fact of our penitentiary system is that of all Americans “serving time” at any given moment, only a third are actually behind bars.  The rest — some 5 million of them — are circulating among the free on conditional supervised release either as parolees, who are freed from prison before their sentences conclude, or as probationers, who walk free in lieu of jail time.  These prisoners-on-the-outside have in fact outnumbered the incarcerated for decades. And recent innovations, both technological and procedural, could enable such programs to advance to a stage where they put the traditional model of incarceration to shame.

In a number of experimental cases, they already have.  Devices such as the one I wore on my leg already allow tens of thousands of convicts to walk the streets relatively freely, impeded only by the knowledge that if they loiter by a schoolyard, say, or near the house of the ex-girlfriend they threatened, or on a street corner known for its crack trade, the law will come to find them. Compared with incarceration, the cost of such surveillance is minuscule—mere dollars per day—and monitoring has few of the hardening effects of time behind bars.  Nor do all the innovations being developed depend on technology.  Similar efforts to control criminals in the wild are under way in pilot programs that demand adherence to onerous parole guidelines, such as frequent, random drug testing, and that provide for immediate punishment if the parolees fail. The result is the same: convicts who might once have been in prison now walk among us unrecognized—like pod people, or Canadians.

There are, of course, many thousands of dangerous felons who can’t be trusted on the loose. But if we extended this form of enhanced, supervised release even to just the nonviolent offenders currently behind bars, we would empty half our prison beds in one swoop....  [S]ome would offend again.  But then, so too do those convicts released at the end of their brutal, hardening sentences under our current system. And even accepting a certain failure rate, by nearly any measure such “prisons without bars” would represent a giant step forward for justice, criminal rehabilitation, and society.

August 18, 2010 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Electronic bracelets to track gun-toting Memphis juveniles"

The title of this post is the notable headline of this notable local article from Tennessee.  Here are the intriguing particulars of one of the the latest use of technocorrections (which is being funded by federal tax dollars):

Memphis police want to stop gun-toting teens in their tracks -- literally.  

Police Director Larry Godwin is teaming with Memphis Mayor A C Wharton to develop a pilot program that monitors the steps of troubled teens through advanced electronic tracking bracelets. It's part of a $2 million, federally funded program to curtail crime using tracking equipment that can pinpoint a detainee's exact location.....

Godwin ... and the mayor are teaming to develop a proposed pilot program, "Cease-Fire for Juveniles."  The initiative, modeled partly after a similar program in St. Louis, allows police and court officials to supervise the teen for one year through an electronic ankle bracelet....

Unlike some other tracking devices, the bracelets used in this program would keep a record of everywhere the detainee goes, transmitting the data in real time to a police department server, Memphis police Col. Jim Harvey said.

Using special software, police can build a virtual fence around a teen offender's home, with the computer monitoring if the teen is staying put during curfew.  If the teen leaves his yard, a police computer will automatically generate an alert.  With sex offenders, police can place a virtual fence around area schools and daycare centers.  If the offender crosses onto forbidden turf, police will get an alert.

Harvey, who is overseeing the logistics of the monitoring, said this program has the potential to drastically reduce the city's crime rate.  "If there's a burglar walking down the street and he sees a police officer, he's not going to break into that house or business," Harvey said. "Now, the way I look at it, he's going to be wearing a police officer on his leg."

In the program's first year, the department plans to track up to 1,000 juvenile and adult offenders in Shelby County and up to 500 in nearby urban areas tracked by federal programs -- Fayette, Tipton and Lauderdale counties and DeSoto County, Miss., and Crittenden County, Ark.

The juvenile program would be voluntary, so the teen and parents would have to agree to participate. If the minors stay out of trouble for one year, the initial gun-possession charge would be erased from their record.

Through the program, the parent would also have to allow random police searches of the teen's bedroom.  If the teen is caught with drugs or another gun, he or she would get kicked out of the program and would face the consequences of violating probation, police said.

Veteran defense attorney James Sanders said the program sounds promising, but he would first want to ensure the parent wouldn't be blamed if the search yielded a weapon or drugs in the teen's room....  The program would also require the minor to complete 40 hours of community service and attend training, which includes straight talk from a former gang member.

August 15, 2010 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Monday, July 26, 2010

New York about to require ignition locks as mandated punishment for drunk driving

I am pleased to see this new New York Law Journal piece, headlined "Drunken Drivers in N.Y. Must Install Devices to Monitor Alcohol Use," reporting that the Empire State is about to mandate a seemingly effective form of technocorrections for persons convicted of a crime that leads to thousands of deaths every year. Here are some of the interesting details:

A new program will go into effect on Aug. 15 in New York that requires anyone convicted of drunken driving to install a device in their cars that will determine whether they are sober before the vehicle will start.  Roughly 25,000 people statewide are convicted each year on charges of drunken driving.

Under the new program, which was adopted as a part of "Leandra's Law," anyone convicted of driving while intoxicated must have the devices installed at their own expense and once a month report to a location where the data recorded by the machine can be analyzed to determine how often the driver exceeded blood alcohol limits.

With the device, known as an ignition interlock breathalyzer, installed, the drivers will have to pass a test to show they have less than one drink in their system before the car will start, and they must use a Breathalyzer at regular intervals to prove they are not drinking and driving.

The devices will not permit a car to start if the driver registers a blood alcohol level of .025 percent or higher. Drivers face criminal charges if their blood alcohol reading exceeds .08 percent....

Judge Judy Harris Kluger, chief of policy and planning for the court system, said that the courts are "well prepared" to meet the Aug. 15 startup date.  About 1,000 village and town court justices and employees of those courts have been trained on implementing the new law, she said. A similar program will be conducted through the Internet for all 1,300 state-funded judges on Aug. 3.

Kluger recognized that judges will have an "additional responsibility" in analyzing detailed financial statements from defendants to determine if they are eligible for a fee waiver, but added that the courts will not know the impact for several months....

Motorists convicted of drunken driving charges will have to pay up to $100 to have the devices installed and a monthly fee of between $70 and $100 depending upon which model and which installer they use.  The seven manufacturers approved by the Department of Probation, will bear the cost of providing the devices to convicted motorists who are unable to pay for them.

In any case where a motorist is convicted of driving while under the influence, judges must require the defendant use the device for at least six months.  The requirement can be imposed with a conditional discharge, most likely in the case of first offenders, or as a condition of probation.

Currently, probation is required in about 9,000 of the 25,000 drunken driving cases, with several hundred jailed and the balance fined, [according to Robert Maccarone, the director of the New York State Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives].  He added that he did not expect that figure to change after Aug. 15. Defendants who go to sentence would be required to install the devices once they have served their terms....

The seven manufacturers must contract with enough installers -- retailers of electronics and security systems -- so that no convicted motorist will have to travel more than 50 miles to have the device installed or to attend monthly compliance checkups.

Each of the manufacturers produces devices at varying levels of sophistication. In addition to the basic model, some have cameras to record who is taking the breathalyzer test and others have global positioning systems.

The requirement for the interlock ignition devices was enacted as a part of Leandra's law, which was adopted in response to the October 2009 death of Leandra Rosado, 11, who was thrown from a car being driven by a drunken driver.

I believe that New York is the largest state to create an ignition lock mandate for those convicted of drunk driving.  As detailed in some prior posts, there is (undisputed?) evidence that every state with serious ignition lock laws have experienced significant decreases in the number of drunken-driving accidents and deaths.  If a very politically prominent state like New York has such positive experiences with Leandra's law, it could prompt adoption of similar programs nationwide and perhaps significantly decrease the harmful scourge that is drunk driving.

Some related posts on sentencing drunk drivers and advocacy for ignition locks:

July 26, 2010 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offense Characteristics, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Monday, July 19, 2010

California struggling with new challenges posed by GPS technocorrections

Regular readers know that I view technocorrections like GPS tracking as a common punishment of the future, and that is one reason I find especially notable this local piece detailing California's problems with this form of technocorrections now.  The piece is headlined "Sex offenders unwatched as parole struggles with GPS system," and here are excerpts:

Two special reports by the state Office of the Inspector General found Corrections' GPS policies were confused at best and non-existent at worst.

The full technological abilities of the system aren't being used, agents and supervisors aren't properly trained and agents are so overloaded with GPS busy work they aren't able to do other vitally important checks in the field, according to the reports. Overall, the reports concluded, Corrections is not aggressively monitoring sex offenders and the public is being given a "false sense of security."...

"Parole agents are so busy tracking dots on a computer screen, they're not out making home visits, checking the guy's workplace, talking to family members," said Melinda Silva, president of the Parole Agents Association of California. "Agents are spending the bulk of their time running tracks including at home and on the weekends."

Jessica's Law, passed in 2006, started the ball rolling on lifetime GPS monitoring of sex offenders. Then the Garrido report added more responsibilities and the Gardner report still more.

California leads the nation in GPS monitored parolees -- 6,500 -- at a cost of $60 million a year. Depending on arrests, there are typically about 250 sex offender parolees on GPS in Kern County.

Silva said the state isn't taking into account how the program has increased agents' workload and whether the work is actually accomplishing what the public expects. "People believe the GPS means we know where they are 24/7 and we don't," Silva said. "We're paying millions for GPS and we're not getting much out of it because agents don't have time to do the work."

Now, she said, State Sen. George Runner, who authored Proposition 83 establishing Jessica's Law, has a bill involving Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites that she feared would add even more to agents' plates.

Not so, Runner said. His bill, SB 1204 which has passed the Senate and the Public Safety committee in the Assembly, would simply require that sex offenders register their online and e-mail addresses as well as their instant messaging user names just like they do their physical addresses.

Silva argued that if it becomes a crime for a sex offender not to register their electronic info, that makes it absolutely incumbent on the agent to check the sites. "Who enforces that if not us?" she asked. "It's ludicrous to say there's no extra work."

As for whether the GPS program has been a success, Runner said it's an evolving technology that should not be thought of as a cure-all. "It's just one tool," he said.

There have been successes and failures with GPS, he acknowledged. But he firmly believes the technology and its use will continue to improve. "That said, there have been problems with implementation." And he said he was "frustrated" with some of Corrections' responses to recommendations about how to do better.

Some related older posts on GPS tracking and related technocorrections:

July 19, 2010 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Thursday, July 01, 2010

"Sex offender faces prison for going to movie, authorities say"

The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing local Detroit story which highlights how GPS tracking can play a role in busting a sex offender for going to the wrong pop-culture event.  Here are the details:

A sex offender told to stay away from children is facing up to 15 years in prison for allegedly violating his probation.

Michael Keeler, 46, of Gregory appeared in Livingston Circuit Court today. Authorities say he went to MJR Theater in Brighton June 22 to see the blockbuster film "Toy Story 3," putting himself among children despite his probationary terms.

Livingston Judge Michael Hatty set bond at 10 percent of $10,000. A hearing is set for July 8.

Court records showed Keeler served one year in prison after pleading guilty to a charge of criminal sexual conduct, second degree, involving a child under age 13 in 2008.

His probation included lifetime of electronic monitoring and registry on the state's sex offender list. The judge said a GPS monitoring device confirmed his whereabouts on June 22.

July 1, 2010 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Seriously ill sex offender may be electronically tagged"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable story about a technocorrections sentence being considered in Ireland.  Here are the details:

A Wicklow man who sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl may become one of the first offenders to be electronically tagged as an alternative to prison.

The 62-year-old, who cannot be named to protect the identity of his victim, suffers from a serious medical condition and the Prison Service has told the court they may not be able to treat him in jail.  He has been on bail since he was convicted last February while it was established if he could be imprisoned or not.

Today Judge Tony Hunt again adjourned sentencing at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court after hearing that the man was not in court. He had gone into hospital to have a procedure carried out last week but it had not gone well and he remained in hospital.

Judge Hunt said he would consider alternatives to prison on “humanitarian grounds” which may include curfews and electronic tagging. He said he would look at having the man tagged after noting there had been trials of the system.

“I regard this man as a very significant threat to the female half of the population, or at least he was before his illness,” the judge said. “If he’s not incarcerated, and he deserves to be for a lengthy period, there will be a lengthy curfew covering most of the day, save for medical appointments and some sort of exercise which he would be entitled to in prison.”  He adjourned the case until the end of the month when he will finalise a sentence.

I am not sure if electronic tagging in Ireland involves simply GPS tracking with an electronic bracelet or if it involves a microchip implant.  Whatever the particulars, this story reinforces my sense that technocorrection alternatives to incarcerations are likely to be a world-wide reality within a matters of years.

June 14, 2010 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Lindsay Lohan doing her best to become technocorrections poster child

Mean Sentencing fans now have yet another reason to enjoy the guilty pleasures of the movie Mean Girls: it seems that its star, Lindsay Lohan, may next appear on either a wanted poster or on a poster advertising SCRAM, the alcohol-monitoring technocorrections device that she is helping to publicize.  This ABC News report explains why: 

Lindsay Lohan is in hot water again -- this time over her court-ordered alcohol-monitoring ankle braclet.

According to People magazine, Lohan's ankle monitor sounded an alarm Sunday night while she attended an after-party for the MTV Movie Awards. It's unclear why the alarm was triggered, but typically authorities are alerted when the device is either tampered with or the person wearing it consumes alcohol.

Whatever the reason, it was enough for Beverly Hills Judge Marsha Revel to issue a bench warrant late Tuesday for Lohan's arrest, claiming the 23-year-old actress was "in violation for conditions on bail," according to US Weekly.

Because of the violation, Lohan's previous $100,000 bail has been revoked. The Los Angeles Times reported that the actress posted new bail of $200,000 to avoid being detained.

On Wednesday, Lohan's attorney and the prosecutor were back in court for a closed-door session with Revel.  Lohan, who is due back in court July 6, was not required to appear.  After the hearing, Lohan's lawyer, Shawn Chapman Holley, told TMZ that Lohan's anklet device "indicated the presence of a small amount of alcohol on Sunday night."

"Having just received the report, I am not in a position to speak to its accuracy or validity; however, Ms. Lohan maintains that she has been in complete compliance with all of the terms of her probation and her bail," Holley said.

In messages posted on her Twitter account, Lohan also denied that she had done anything wrong and said the anklet, known as a SCRAM, or Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor, should have detected nothing.  "I did not violate anything at all," she tweeted. "My SCRAM wasn't set off ... It's physically impossible considering I've [done] nothing for it to go off. All of these false [reports] are absolutely wrong."

Lohan was fitted for the device May 24 after she failed to show up for a mandatory hearing on her probation related to an earlier DUI case....

[A recent] report in US Weekly magazine [said] that the actress, who previously wore the bracelet in 2007, tried using a paper clip to jam the signal and perfume (which is high in alcohol content) to confuse the sensor.  The magazine said Lohan denied attempting both tactics.  But she wouldn't be the first to try to bypass the bracelet....

Vickers Cunningham, retired Texas District Court Judge and chief operating officer of Recovery Healthcare Corporation, a major SCRAM distributor, said that some offenders have attempted innovative strategies to bluff the booze detector.

Novices place cellophane or foil between the skin and the sensor. "The more creative people have tried to simulate human skin by using baloney or salami or ham," he said.  One even stuck chicken skin to his ankle. But he said that the bracelets include several anti-tamper sensors....

He said tactics like Lohan's alleged perfume-spraying strategy are known as attempts at "spiking the bracelet."  Offenders are told not to use perfume and other topical alcohol-based products around their ankles because it sends the reported alcohol level through the roof and masks any alcoholic beverages the person might have consumed.

But Cunningham said probation officers can tell when offenders spike the bracelets with gasoline, perfume and other substances and can send them before a judge to explain why they contaminated the sample.

June 9, 2010 in Celebrity sentencings, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, May 24, 2010

"Lindsay Lohan New Spokeswoman for SCRAM Alcohol Testing Accessory"

The title of this post is the headline of this new piece from, which provides a cheeky and gendered take on the celebrity technocorrections news coming from Hollywood this morning.  Here are the details:

Following her weeks-long odyssey ditching court appearances, losing her passport and partying her ass off -- sorry, promoting her Linda Lovelace biopic -- in Cannes, Lindsay Lohan finally turned up for court Monday morning to face Judge Marsha Revel, who postponed her vacation a day in order to personally sentence Ms. Lohan, according to TMZ.

Judge Revel delivered a litany of conditions to Lohan, including sporting a SCRAM ankle bracelet that continually monitors blood alcohol, weekly random drug testing and attending mandatory drug and alcohol classes.  This is a good thing, as Linds in her court appearance, could no longer hide the booze and drug bloat behind a pair of $400 toss-away Chloe sunglasses.

As Lindsay is due to start working in Texas, her lawyer Shawn Chapman Holley, attempted to extricate her from the bonds of wearing the glamorous SCRAM device, which will surely clash with Lindsay's leggings and Louboutins, as airbrushing the SCRAM out of the movie and photo shoots is unlikely.  Furthermore, Lindsay is required to undergo weekly random drug testing in Los Angeles only, and not in Texas, whether it interferes with the first job she's had in ages or not.

Revel tossed out the terms of Lindsay's probation refusing to listen to excuses or requests for any type of leniency, as Lindsay had often blown the judge off, likely for sundry pointless shopping trips at her neighborhood 7/11 and for iced lattes on Robertson Blvd.

Should Lindsay test Revel -- not a good idea as she's acting judge, jury, mom and dad -- Linds may find herself tossed in the pokey ala Paris Hilton circa 2007.

May 24, 2010 in Celebrity sentencings, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"Documentation, Documentary, and the Law: What Should be Made of Victim Impact Videos?"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new piece on SSRN from Regina Austin. Here is the abstract:

Since the Supreme Court sanctioned the introduction of victim impact evidence in the sentencing phase of capital cases in Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808 (1991), there have been a number of reported decisions in which that evidence has taken the form of videos composed of home-produced still photographs and moving images of the victim.  Most of these videos were first shown at funerals or memorial services and contain music appropriate for such occasions. This article considers the probative value of victim impact videos and responds to the call of Justice John Paul Stevens, made in a statement regarding the rejection of certiorari in People v. Kelly, 129 S.Ct. 564 (2008), for the articulation of reasonable limits on the admission of victim impact evidence.

The first part of the article offers an analysis of victim impact videos drawing on the lessons of cinema studies and cultural studies.  The common reception of home photographs and moving images affects the interpretation of victim impact videos.  As a result, impact videos are typically too idealistic and idyllic to be really probative evidence of the victims’ individuality and the impact of their loss on their families and friends. However, impact videos may be particularly important evidence for the members of devalued or denigrated groups who fall outside of generally accepted images of ideal victims. 

The second part of the article deals with an actual case in which the subject of the video was a young Latina mother, felled by domestic violence, whose character was attacked as part of the effort to mitigate her husband’s sentence.  He wound up with a judgment of life without the possibility of parole.  Here the article considers how the victim impact video might have been more probative and the response of the defense to it, more likely to produce a less harsh punishment.

Part three finds greater relevance in a video streamed on YouTube that was based on the written impact statement presented by the young adult son of a homicide victim at the perpetrator’s first parole hearing which was held some 15 years after the murder.  Finally, the conclusion offers recommendations for the admission of victim impact videos.

It is my understanding that the submission by defendants of mitigating video evidence at sentencing is becoming a quite common in some courthouses.  Thus, I wonder if the author here or others who agree that certain kinds of "videos are typically too idealistic and idyllic to be really probative evidence" would also be inclined to preclude defense submission of videos. 

April 24, 2010 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Technocorrections, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Friday, April 23, 2010

"Ohio considers using Twitter to announce executions"

The title of this post is the headline of this new story out of Ohio.  Here are the details:

A spokeswoman says Ohio's prison system has contemplated using Twitter to announce when an execution has been completed.  However, Communications Director Julie Walburn at the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction says she's concerned that tweeting about an inmate's time of death may be considered in poor taste.

She says the department still hasn't decided how to use Twitter and other social media to disseminate news. Walburn says she's focused on trying to get the word out about executions quickly. When condemned inmate Darryl Durr died by lethal injection at 10:36 a.m. Tuesday, a news release was e-mailed to media outlets one minute later.

I know lots and lots of people consider a state's efforts to execute someone to be in "poor taste," but I see no reason not to use all modern means of communication to report on these efforts.  But perhaps other have different views on taste and technology (which they are encouraged to express in the comments).

April 23, 2010 in Death Penalty Reforms, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Mass high court considering GPS tracking rules for sex offenders

As detailed in this Boston Herald article, which is headlined "DAs unite to use GPS on sex offenders," the most popular of modern technocorrections was before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court yesterday. Here are the details:

Allowing sex offenders to roam free without GPS monitoring has district attorneys joining forces to appeal to have judges granted the authority to slap the fiends with ankle bracelets.

The state Supreme Judicial Court yesterday heard both sides of the controversy in a case about a convicted Middlesex County child rapist who objected to wearing a GPS-monitoring device during his 10-year probation term.  “These are people who by their very nature cannot control their sexual impulses and are likely to reoffend,” said Middlesex County District Attorney Gerard Leone, whose office prosecuted Ralph Goodwin, the sex offender at the center of the legal battle.  “It’s paramount we have some means of significant monitoring.”

After he finished jail and civil sentences last summer, the Probation Department requested GPS monitoring for Goodwin.  Superior Court Judge Kathe M. Tuttman, however, ruled she did not have the authority to impose the monitoring.  In her ruling, Tuttman cited a 2009 SJC decision that decided a 2006 law mandating GPS devices on all sex offenders placed on probation cannot apply retroactively....

Since the summer, about 234 sex offenders have been allowed to remove their ankle bracelets as a result of the SJC ruling.

Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said it makes sense to give judges the right to decide whether GPS monitoring is appropriate.  “I believe that judges should have the option to make that finding,” he said.  “It doesn’t necessarily mean it would be done in every case.”

Essex County District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett agreed.  “It’s just another probationary tool to help keep the public safe,” he said.  “We have an obligation to speak up about this and ask the court to make a decision.”

April 8, 2010 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Friday, March 26, 2010

"Judge Calls Electronic Monitoring Excessive Bail in Child Pornography Case"

The title of this post is the headline of this piece in the New York Law Journal, which reports on the latest significant sentencing decision of EDNY's Judge Jack Weinstein. Here is how the piece starts:

Eastern District of New York Judge Jack B. Weinstein has held unconstitutional the electronic monitoring of a Brooklyn pizzeria owner awaiting retrial on child pornography charges.

The judge found that the monitoring, mandated by the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, constitutes unconstitutionally excessive bail and violates defendant Peter Polouizzi's procedural due process rights. "The basic defect of the Adam Walsh Act, as applied, is that it imposes a mandatory limit on freedom of an accused without permitting an 'adversary hearing,'" Weinstein held in United States v. Polouizzi (Polizzi), 06-cr-22 [available here].

"Required wearing of an electronic bracelet, every minute of every day, with the government capable of tracking a person not yet convicted as if he were a feral animal would be considered a serious limitation on freedom by most liberty-loving Americans."

Weinstein's opinion marks yet another setback for the government in its prosecution of Polouizzi, who has admitted collecting thousands of images of child pornography. Polouizzi claims he downloaded the photos in the hope of saving the children or perhaps of finding evidence of the brutal rapes he endured as a child.

Since a jury rejected Polouizzi's insanity defense in October 2007 and convicted him of 23 counts of receiving and possessing child pornography, Weinstein has twice ordered the case to be retried. The first order was reversed by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; the second order is on appeal. After the government filed its most recent appeal, Polouizzi's counsel, Mitchell J. Dinnerstein, contested the conditions of his bail.

Wednesday, Judge Weinstein ordered the discontinuation of the electronic monitoring, finding that it violated both the Eighth Amendment prohibition against excessive bail and the Fifth Amendment right to procedural due process. The judge cited more than half a dozen decisions finding the Adam Walsh Act, which imposes electronic monitoring without discretion, unconstitutional in cases where flight or safety are not at issue.

"Electronic monitoring devices that inhibit straying beyond spatial home property limits, like those used to restrain pet dogs, are intrusive. Their requirement, when mandated and unnecessary, may constitute excessive bail in particular cases," Weinstein wrote.

March 26, 2010 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Monday, February 01, 2010

The virutes of (faith-based) video-conferencing for prisoners and their families

The modern realities of crime and punishment produce precious few feel-good stories, but here is one coming from the Virginia prison system.  The local piece is headlined "Videoconferencing lets families visit Va. prison inmates," and here are highlights:

For the five years Tori Chisholm has been held in a mountaintop prison near the Kentucky border, there haven't been many visitors from back home in Richmond. It was snowing in Big Stone Gap on Jan. 2 when he sat down inside Wallens Ridge State Prison and began talking with his mother, Lisa Chisholm, and his 17-year-old brother, Rashawn Brathwaite.

But Chisholm's family did not have to drive six or seven hours from Richmond's East End for the one-hour visit. Instead, they took advantage of a videoconferencing program started by New Canaan International Church in Henrico County, which allowed them to see and speak with one another while almost 400 miles apart.

The Virginia Department of Corrections is allowing the program to expand to nine other prisons -- at no cost to taxpayers. The Rev. Owen C. Cardwell Jr., pastor of the church at 1708 Byron St., said that "to the best of our knowledge, we're the only [faith-based] program like this in the nation."

The church has been using donated equipment and charging $30 for a one-hour visit and $15 for 30 minutes to help cover the costs. In a high-security prison such as Wallens Ridge, using a live video connection enables inmates and "visitors" to see and hear one another as well as -- if not better than -- during in-person visits conducted through clear, but solid, plexiglass windows using phones.

Since starting the program 3½ years ago, New Canaan and two other churches now involved have arranged 650 video visits between Wallens Ridge inmates and their families. The cost for the video visits is considerably less than that of daylong drives and overnight stays often needed to visit some of Virginia's more remote, high-security prisons. "It's taken a long time to pull this together," Cardwell said....

Fran Bolin, the program's executive director, said they will be doing video visits later with inmates at the Bland and Pocahontas correctional centers, the Virginia Correctional Center for Women, and Red Onion State Prison. They have been assisted by a $20,000 grant from The Community Foundation Serving Richmond and Central Virginia.

Bolin said a round-trip drive from Richmond to Red Onion in Wise County is 744 miles. Factoring in mileage, meals and lodging, an in-person visit there could cost hundreds of dollars, making the $15 and $30 fees a bargain, she said....

Larry Traylor, spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said that in addition to helping families, video visitations help inmates. Visits help ease tensions, and long periods without visits can increase the problems of inmates. "The program has been successful at Wallens Ridge, and we felt that the good results we had there warranted expansion to other prisons, on a pilot basis," he said. All such visits are recorded, he said.

The link above to this full story also provides access to a short video that shows how effectively personal these video visits can be.  Because of the potential cost savings to both governments and prisoner families, I suspect that these sorts of video visit may before too long become the norm rather than the exception in many major prisons.

February 1, 2010 in Prisons and prisoners, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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 (5) | TrackBack

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Should we embrace or fear videoconferencing in corrections?

This fascintating article at, 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