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March 15, 2022

Spotlighting the new widening potential of electronic monitoring

This new Los Angeles Times op-ed authored by Kate Weisburd and Alicia Virani and headlined "The monster of incarceration quietly expands through ankle monitors," spotlights why many are concerned that electronic monitoring and other new supervision tool may expanded rather than reduce our nation's carceral footprint.  I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts (with links from the original):

In Los Angeles County, the number of people ordered to wear electronic ankle monitors as a condition of pretrial release went up 5,250% in the last six years, according to a recent report by the UCLA Criminal Justice Program. The figure rose from just 24 individuals in 2015 to more than 1,200 in 2021.  This type of carceral surveillance is becoming the “new normal” across the U.S....

It’s widely defended as “better than jail,” but being “better than jail” does not make a criminal justice policy sound — much less humane or legal....  It’s deceptive to even compare jail and ankle monitors as though they are the only two options.  There is a third option: freedom.  In 2015 and before, L.A. judges were unlikely to order electronic monitoring as a condition of release before trial. Judges either set bail, released people on their own recognizance or ordered that people be detained in jail until trial.

Now, judges seem to be defaulting to electronic monitoring, perhaps for people who would — or should — otherwise be free. For people who would otherwise be in jail, monitoring may be preferable.  But for people who are monitored instead of being released on their own recognizance, monitoring reflects a dangerous expansion of the carceral state.

This “E-jail” entails a web of invasive rules and surveillance technologies, such as GPS-equipped ankle monitors, that allow law enforcement to tag, track and analyze the precise locations of people who have not been convicted of any crime....  The difference between E-jails and real jails is a matter of degree, not of kind.  A recent report by researchers at George Washington University School of Law details the myriad ways that monitoring undermines autonomy, dignity, privacy, financial security and social relationships when they are needed most.

Like in jail, people on monitors lose their liberty. In L.A., as elsewhere, people on monitors are forbidden from leaving their house without pre-approval from authorities days in advance.  Like in jail, people on monitors have little privacy and must comply with dozens of strict rules governing every aspect of daily life. Failing to charge the monitoring device, changing a work or school schedule without permission or making an unauthorized trip to the grocery store can land someone back in jail for a technical violation. It is hardly surprising that in L.A. County, technical rule violations, not new criminal offenses, led to more than 90% of the terminations and reincarcerations applied to people on electronic monitors.


Ankle monitoring also further entrenches the very racial and economic inequities that bail reform sought to address. In 2021, 84% of people on pretrial electronic monitoring in L.A. County were either Black or Latinx.  And in most places, though not in L.A., people on ankle monitors before trial are required to pay for the device.   These fees are on top of other costs, such as electric bills (to charge the monitor), cellphone bills (to communicate with the monitoring agency) and the cost of care and transportation for family members that is required because people on monitors often cannot leave home....

There is, however, some reason for optimism.  After years of community organizing, L.A. County’s Board of Supervisors recently passed a motion to develop an independent pretrial services agency within a new Justice, Care and Opportunities Department that takes over the role that probation plays in pretrial services.  This new agency has the ability and authority to end the county’s needless reliance on electronic monitoring.  We urge officials to focus on innovative solutions that rely on community-based support rather than punitive and harmful surveillance technology.

March 15, 2022 at 08:10 PM | Permalink


You could significantly mitigate this by requiring sentence credit for time spent on "tagged bail," as I believe the UK calls it and does. That "compensates" anyone who ends up receiving a significant custodial sentence (and people who aren't expected to receive such a sentence if convicted shouldn't be on electronic monitoring in the first place absent pretty unusual circumstances)

Posted by: Jason | Mar 16, 2022 9:11:13 AM

It's always interesting to see who is benefiting financially from the increasing use of monitoring and who the lobbying money is going to.

Posted by: beth curtis | Mar 16, 2022 12:37:45 PM

This is the same ploy the Left pulled off with capital punishment. For years, the plea was to do away with horrible stuff like the electric chair and the gas chamber, in favor of something more humane, like lethal injection. When lethal injection won the day, there was an immediate pivot to. "Oh, wait, lethal injection is just like torture, so we can't do that either."

Same deal here. For years we've been hearing about the wonderfulness of "alternatives to incarceration" such as home confinement with close monitoring. So when we get home confinement with close monitoring, what happens? "Oh, we can't do that either, it's just incarceration by another name."

The only thing the Left knows how to do better than trash Amerika is how to play a shell game.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 16, 2022 3:02:40 PM

@Bill Otis: I think you've blown past some of the valid questions the article is asking.

There's a huge difference between home confinement as a punishment in lieu of incarceration, and electronic monitoring of those who are awaiting trial. The DP is a punishment. Pretrial release is not -- or isn't supposed to be.

Bail is a Constitutional right -- most defendants are entitled to it. The article suggests that some judges are adding electronic monitoring as a condition of bail, in cases where they formerly would not have. Bail conditions should be tied to ensuring the defendant's presence at trial, rather than punishment. But violations of electronic monitoring can be triggered by such trivialities as taking out the garbage or stopping to refill the gas tank.

I think it's a bit dubious to blame every article you disagree with on "the Left".

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Mar 17, 2022 10:33:13 AM

All good, but let’s not forget that judges just throw home monitoring as a condition of bail. That feels like an issue when you think about the fact that the bailed person hasn’t been convicted yet. Look also at what Judge Jackson did to Roger Stone. Is it really cool for judges to issue gag orders that prohibit criticism of the judge? I would say no. The more tools in the toolbox that don’t look like jail, the more that people will be subjected to onerous pre-sentencing regimes.

On that front, relatedly, I don’t know what to think about Juicy getting out of jail. He’s guilty as sin, but I think he has a pretty good Double Jeopardy argument. Of course, he procured the abortive sweetheart deal through clout, so from a rough justice standpoint, I hope he loses that argument.

Kim Foxx is a disgrace.

Posted by: Federalist | Mar 17, 2022 10:44:19 AM

Bail isn’t a federal constitutional right—US v Salerno

Posted by: Federalist | Mar 17, 2022 10:45:06 AM

US vs Salerno held that the Bail Reform Act was Constitutional. This Act "requires courts to detain prior to trial arrestees charged with certain serious felonies if the Government demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence, after an adversary hearing, that no release conditions "will reasonably assure . . . the safety of any other person and the community."

This does not contradict what I said, which is that Bail is a Constitutional right that most defendants are entitled to. It can be denied only if the government makes a particularly strong showing in particular cases. I don't think the Court has ever said categorically that no such right exists. They just said the right to Bail has limits, as is true of most rights.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Mar 17, 2022 11:47:13 AM

Marc Shepherd --

"I think it's a bit dubious to blame every article you disagree with on 'the Left'."

So do I, which is why a blame quite a few of them on quite non-Leftish libertarians.

Moral of story: It's a bit dubious to say "every" when you don't actually mean it.

More later.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 17, 2022 4:23:17 PM

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