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August 22, 2007

More reasons to expect a GPS-world of corrections

Like Michael Connelly at Corrections Sentencing, I see this piece from Wyoming about the selling of GPS-tracking systems to provide a telling window into why the future is technocorrections (and the future may be now).  Here are snippets from a piece that should be read in full:

Powell Mayor Scott Mangold could be located with a few keystrokes on a computer over the weekend, as a network of satellites tracked his every move.  Mangold strapped on an electronic monitoring anklet Thursday and wore it until Sunday morning to test a system being marketed by Freedom Fighters, a Wyoming company seeking to sell the gear to law enforcement.

Powell Police Chief Tim Feathers wrote in a memo to Mangold that he sees potential advantages in using the device as a possible alternative to incarceration for certain nonviolent, first-time offenders.  Mangold said he thinks it could save taxpayers money at a time when hundreds of the state's prisoners are housed out of state, and finding qualified jailers can be difficult when competing with high oil and gas wages.

"Prison is a place for repeat, violent offenders, but this offers an alternative," said Boone Tidwell of Freedom Fighters, who will be pitching the device to Wyoming sheriffs and prison managers. Tidwell, a retired sheriff's detective and former bail bondsman, is marketing the device in Wyoming for manufacturer SecureAlert, a Utah company that also monitors offenders wearing the anklets.

Equipped with a global positioning unit and a cell phone, the TrackerPal is a little larger than a pack of cigarettes, uses detachable, rechargeable battery packs, and is attached with a custom tool.  Police can use the TrackerPal's cell phone to speak with offenders.... Future versions of the device available by early next year will be able to take readings from the wearer's skin and detect drug or alcohol use, Tidwell said.

"This would help a lot of the 'meth moms' that we're giving those massive jail sentences of 10 or 15 years to," Mangold said.  "You could attach one of these to them after they've completed a treatment program and get them back to their families and into the work force. If it detects meth, they go back to jail," he said.  Because offenders would wear the anklets instead of being locked up, they would be volunteering for the program, and could be required to help pay for some or all of its costs, he said.

Tidwell figured the anklets would cost around $15 to $25 per day, including monitoring, which could be done by local law enforcement or through SecureAlert.  "When you consider we're shipping hundreds of prisoners out of the state to be housed at a cost of $60 per day, this could mean a savings of several millions of dollars a year," he said.

Some related posts on GPS tracking:

August 22, 2007 at 10:02 PM | Permalink


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The more tools there are to monitor parolees and people subject to supervision, the more likely parole etc. (with the attendant cost-savings and improved lives) becomes, which can be a benefit to us all by freeing up prison space for violent criminals.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 22, 2007 11:29:51 PM

This device appears to be an improvement over the present GPS monitors that may make it possible for more people to be on work release which is much more attractive to jail inmates than home detention because they can keep their job and support their family. The fact that it uses a cell phone sets some major restrictions on where they can travel. Home detention with electronic monitoring is a possibility but it is seldom used in our district.

My view is the corrections people should give this new technology rigorous trials with nonviolent offenders to discover the flaws in the system before they try to use it on violent offenders.

There is another type of relatively inexpensive GPS technology that does not allow real-time supervision but records the GPS positions that are downloaded once a day. It functions as an electronic tattle-tale. Such devices may be of value in increasing the rigor of supervision of persons on supervised pre-trial release or supervised probation.

I suppose one could also set up an electronic fence around exclusion areas they are not suppose to be (the opposite of an electronic dog fence). I can see how this would work in the tattle-tale mode but it probably would be difficult to make work in the real-time mode.

Posted by: JSN | Aug 22, 2007 11:32:32 PM

In response to Federalist and JSN, I agree that it would be great to alleviate the overcrowding of prisons and that this device seems like one way to do so. But doesn't this infringe on the constitutional right of privacy? Do we really want a society where the government can track your every movement? Imagine wearing one of those things - how thoroughly degrading.

As far as making the accused pay for the anklet, that makes no sense. Assuming many of the wearers would be extremely poor (I'm assuming the target population is poor inner city drug addicts), how do we expect them to get the money to pay for the device? Many probably don't have jobs. If they do have a job (or the capacity to get one), it's probably minimum wage and barely enough to cover basic living costs. The only ways for them to get the money are to eat less, beg from family, or resort to petty crime. By making these people pay for their own degradation, wouldn't we be pushing them into either starvation, indebtedness, or more criminality? Is that really what we want?

And finally, how can we expect drug addicts to respond rationally to punishment devices such as this one? If you're an addict, no amount of monitoring, threats, or blood tests will keep you off the drugs - there's no carefully weighed decision of "if I do this I go to prison, if I don't I stay free", but rather a physical need to take the drug. Is anyone out there a coffee drinker? You know what it feels like to miss the morning cup? Imagine that with 100 times the intensity, and see if you'd be able to think like the rational actor we assume addicts to be. Rather than buy these GPS anklets, which will only confirm what we already know - namely, that drug addicts have an extremely high rate of recidivism - why not spend that money on something that might help people get off the drugs? We've tried so many sticks over the past 30 years - how about a carrot for once?

Posted by: | Aug 23, 2007 10:42:22 AM

But doesn't this infringe on the constitutional right of privacy? Do we really want a society where the government can track your every movement? Imagine wearing one of those things - how thoroughly degrading

The quick response to this is the "greater includes the lesser" argument. When these things are compared to the alternative--prison, there's no problem. If the baseline is sending someone to prison, where he has essentially no privacy, GPS monitoring is an improvement by comparison. If the prisoner disagrees with that assessment (remember, this is voluntary), he can stay in prison.

What troubles me about this, though, is that the idea of the government monitoring everybody is viscerally creepy, and I wonder if this might turn out like the taser.

As I understand it, the taser was supposed to be an alternative to guns. Instead of shooting suspects who resisted arrest or fought police officers, the officers could taser them. The suspect would be temporary paralyzed instead of suffering the grievous injury that bullets inflict (setting aside the occasional case in which a taser severely injures its target). When considered against the alternative of a gun, the taser seems great.

The problem, though, is that police officers don't use tasers strictly as an alternative to guns--that is, they don't just taser people in situations where they might otherwise have shot them. Instead, there have been reports of police using tasers when arrestees don't follow directions or don't move quickly enough. Tasers have decreased the violence to suspects in some situations, but increased it in others.

If the GPS thing works similarly, it might be used not only as an alternative to prison, but as an alternative to lots of other punishments (or even non-criminal sanctions) that are less harsh than GPS monitoring. It's that possibility that worries me.

Posted by: | Aug 23, 2007 10:58:28 AM

If electronic monitoring (EM or GPS) is a jail alternative the jail inmate has to apply to be transferred from jail to EM so they would move from no privacy to somewhat restricted privacy. If EM is a prison alternative they have to chose prison or probation with EM or prison or parole with EM.

The policy of having the client pay for the EM has been a controversial one in our county and district. Those who want maximum retribution don't what anyone released from prison or jail and if they are they want them to pay a high price for the privilege. All that those who advocate alternatives have been able to accomplish is to keep the costs as low as possible. The net result is that poor people are excluded from being released on EM.

A serious problem is that most people do not understand how to evaluate risk. In Iowa we have 8,800 in Prison and a similar number in jail and about 28,000 in community based correction(CBC). My estimate is that about 2000 prison inmates and about a 1000 jail inmates have low enough risk so they could be placed under CBC supervision. It is not very likely that will be done because most people have never hear of CBC and they think everyone in jail or prison is a threat to public safety.

Posted by: JSN | Aug 23, 2007 1:54:54 PM

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