In this article, “Get Out of Jail Unfree,” William Saletan notes that only the rich seem to get out on bail with electronic monitoring while the poor languish awaiting their fate. He says ankle bracelets have become tres chic, a sign of status.
He has a point. Sure Lindsay Lohan, Martha Stewart and Charley Sheen have worn the bracelet. But Saletan also misses the point. A large number of people on monitoring are poor folks being monitored for no good reason. For many it is an addition onto a parole regime. Others get a monitor for driving without a license. Some juveniles (mostly African-Americans and Latinos) are even getting monitors for excessive truancy.
And most of these people are being made to pay user fees-typically $5-15 a day, sometimes more. If you don’t pay you might end up back in jail, even if you don’t have a job.
Most of this has little to do with public safety. Ultimately, public safety is about encouraging people to live peacefully with one another. Stringent regimes of electronic monitoring do not do this. They limit peoples’ opportunity, confine them to the house, and promote frustration and failure. Nearly everyone would rather be on a leg monitor than in jail or prison, but we need to set the conditions of electronic monitoring so they facilitate rehabilitation and re-entry, not transfer the punishment of the jail cell to our living rooms and kitchens.