Ask any inmate if they would prefer to be locked up or out with an ankle bracelet, most would be glad to trade the bars for the inconvenience to be with their family.
Experts recognize the family connects as important to an inmate’s’ successful rehabilitation.
Advocates for changing the criminal justice system have been working to do away with cash bail schemes and begin dismantling the prison industrial complex.
One of the tools which can be an alternative to incarceration is electronic monitoring — EM. EM uses a wrist or ankle bracelet to monitor a person’s location, blood alcohol live and even their breath. While the use of the new technology is expanding, regulations and oversight is lagging.
There are various types of electronic monitoring methods. These include:
- Active GPS tracking using satellites to report location in real time,
- Passive GPS tracking where the device tracks a person’s daily activity and stores the information for uploading the next day,
- Radio Frequency is mainly used to monitor curfews,
- Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring (SCRAM) analyzes the individuals sweat to extrapolate blood alcohol levels,
- Breathalyzer monitoring reviews and tests a person’s breath randomly,
The monitors are often a condition of pretrial release or post-conviction maintenance similar to probation or parole. Often EMs are used to reduce incarcerated populations. EM’s applications are being used now to include juveniles and the elderly.
Guidelines and Other Concerns
The wide use of EM by law enforcement is unchecked. Over 50 groups are endorsing a set of guidelines to respect the rights of persons on electronic monitoring.
For instance, a main consideration is the risk of racial discrimination. People of color are placed on electronic monitoring more frequently than whites. In Cook County, Illinois, blacks make up just 24% of the area population, yet are more than 70% of the individuals on EM. The skewing of racial disparity matches the racial disparity in physical incarceration.
People on EM pay user fees which can rage from $3 to $35 each day. That’s on top of $100-$200 in set up fees. The result is cost of e-carceration is shifted from the government to the individuals being monitored — and their families. This disproportionately affects poorer communities who are over-policed as it is.
Individual privacy is battered as well. EMs can threaten the rights of more than those monitored, but also those who interact with them. As children, friends or family continue to rely on persons on EM for rides and housing, they often experience privacy intrusions from the same tools which monitor their loved ones.
What is the solution for electronic monitoring? Society needs to demand strict safeguards against the technologies’ misuse.
GPS monitoring creates a precise, comprehensive record of an individual’s public movements which reveal a wealth of detail including political, professional and religious connections.
“Law enforcement needs to be required to get a warrant or other court order prior to using EM to track a person’s location information,” said Arkady Bukh, a noted New York criminal defense lawyer.