« New USSC data on implimentation and impact of retroactive crack guidelines after FSA | Main | Big taxpayer pricetag ($4 million) for just one notable casualty from federal drug war »

July 30, 2013

Intriguing AP review of the challenges of GPS tracking

GPSThe AP has this intriguing piece of new reporting on a (too?) popular modern form of technocorrections.  The piece is headlined "Some Ankle Bracelet Alarms Go Unchecked," and here are excerpts:

Three decades after they were introduced as a crime-fighting tool, electronic ankle bracelets used to track an offender's whereabouts have proliferated so much that officials are struggling to handle an avalanche of monitoring alerts that are often nothing more sinister than a dead battery, lost satellite contact or someone arriving home late from work.

Amid all that white noise, alarms are going unchecked, sometimes on defendants now accused of new crimes.  Some agencies don't have clear protocols on how to handle the multitude of alerts, or don't always follow them.  At times, officials took days to act, if they noticed at all, when criminals tampered with their bracelets or broke a curfew....

Twenty-one agencies that responded to the AP inquiry logged 256,408 alarms for 26,343 offenders in the month of April alone.  It adds up for those doing the monitoring.  The 230 parole officers with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice handled 944 alerts per day in April.  The Delaware Department of Correction, which has 31 field officers, handled 514 alarms per day....

Sorting through alerts, and deciding which are serious enough to merit a rapid response, can be fraught with peril....

Supporters of electronic monitoring say [violent crimes by monitored offenders who set off alarms and other] tragedies are the exception and that the devices are a valuable tool for authorities who previously relied only on shoe leather and the telephone to keep tabs on released prisoners. In many cases involving violence by people on trackers, the accused likely would have been free on bail or parole even if electronic monitoring didn't exist, and would have been far harder to monitor.

"No one should think this is going to be 100 percent effective," said George Runner, a former California legislator who wrote that state's voter-approved law requiring bracelets for all paroled sex offenders. "It's just a tool. When used, and used effectively, it can be not only helpful in modifying behavior, but we've heard stories about it actually preventing crimes."

Once used to track straying cows, electronic monitoring of criminals debuted in 1983, when a New Mexico judge inspired by a Spider-Man comic book allowed a man who violated probation to wear an ankle bracelet rather than go to jail.  Use took off in the last decade, as technology improved and lawmakers became enamored of trackers as a cost-effective alternative to incarceration and a way of monitoring sex offenders for life.

Today, 39 states require monitoring of sex offenders.  The biggest user of ankle bracelets is the federal government, which tracks people on pretrial release and probation, as well as thousands of immigrants fighting deportation....

"It's virtually impossible to sit there and track a person all day," said Kelly Barnett, a union official who represents probation officers doing GPS tracking in Michigan.  Barnett said that while officers see value in the monitoring, such programs also give "a false sense of security to the community."

Studies have found mixed results on the devices' value as a crime deterrent.  Bill Bales, a criminology professor at Florida State University, said he believes they are beneficial. Offenders wearing them tend to stay home more with their families.  "They're glad to be in the free world, albeit tethered, rather than in prison," Bales said.

The key to making the devices work, he and other experts said, is to figure out how best to process the immense amounts of information they generate.

July 30, 2013 at 09:57 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Intriguing AP review of the challenges of GPS tracking:


"but we've heard stories about it actually preventing crimes."

Yes George, please tell us the stories. We've got all day. It obviously prevented Phillip Garrido (sarcasm).

GPS tracking as it is currently practiced is a waste of time and resources. There are 50 times more false alerts where the wearer is in compliance than deliberate interference with the device by the wearer. As a former engineer, I would expect this outcome. That the government continues with this damaged bill of goods without reviewing current policies, all I can say is follow the campaign money.

Posted by: albeed | Jul 30, 2013 11:40:15 PM

Just to show the over-proliferation, I know an individual on federal supervised release and state parol who is currently wearing 2 ankle bracelets. How brilliant is that.

Posted by: Lifer | Jul 31, 2013 8:10:40 AM

'nothing more sinister than a dead battery, lost satellite contact or someone arriving home late from work.'
or possibly a double wrap of heavy aluminum foil won't disrupt

Posted by: - | Jul 31, 2013 4:05:18 PM

The average sex offender on parole has to spend a cumulative 12 days in defacto custody on technical difficulties alone. When a signal is last the RSO is prohibited from leaving his house until the technology is fixed. This figure is based upon outage times multiplied by number of offenders they are applied to. One offender had to spend 12 straight days in his house and lost his job because of this, then couldn't pay rent so was kicked out on the day his technology was fixed. This has to stop.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Jul 31, 2013 4:33:35 PM


The event that you cited is not uncommon to the mostly harmless individuals classified as SOs. That this unconstitutional BS has to stop is unquestionable to any sane, rational person which our federal judiciary and legislators are not. Smith vs. Doe was the WORST unconstitutional decision to come out from our very own black pajama wearer's butts in many years and the continued defense through additional decisions and incorrect appellate interpretations keeps digging us a deeper hole that we may never get out of.

Posted by: albeed | Jul 31, 2013 10:09:49 PM

personaly i would tell any govt fuckup who told me i had to sit in my home becasue their tech fucked up to basically GET FUCKED!

You have 1hr to get a tech here. At that point you've had your chance to fix your shit. I will now proceed with my life. Let me know when you can get off your ass and have a tech here and i'll meet them.

A big part of the problem with the ex SO's who have these illegal pice of shits. it simple. They are not on probation/parole. So just who is responsible for keeping up with them? Nobody wants that job!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jul 31, 2013 11:56:24 PM

you said a mouth full here albeed!

"Smith vs. Doe was the WORST unconstitutional decision to come out from our very own black pajama wearer's butts in many years and the continued defense through additional decisions and incorrect appellate interpretations keeps digging us a deeper hole that we may never get out of."

Personally i consider the decision a treason to thier oath of office to uphold the constitution and grounds for summerary execution of the justices who voted for it!

The whole thing was based on a fraud upon the court the so-called 100% reoffencse rate! Not the mention the so-called HI REOFFENSE rate! sorry 5-15% is not high no matter how you lie about it!

Then of course there's the lieing bullshit that's it not similar to probation/parole

Under the current laws the only difference is

When you report.
Where you report!

They tell you where you can live
where you can work
where you can fucking walk or drive!

Sounds like fucking probation/parole to me!

Posted by: rodsmith | Aug 1, 2013 12:00:50 AM

Post a comment

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