Suddenly today in a number of newspapers across the country we have state by state accounts of electronic monitoring. All the articles are in the same rough format, even with similar titles: “A look at How NC Uses Electronic Monitoring” (Sacramento Bee) -cut and paste Washington and South Carolina and you have the title from and the Bradenton Herald and the Miami Herald. So the media departments in BI and other monitoring firms are busy trying to counter the critical article from the Associated Press yesterday. (see previous post on this blog). Amazing how the press so easily becomes a mouthpiece for corporate media releases.
FEAR CAMPAIGN ON ELECTRONIC MONITORING
Today ABC News ran a story about false alarms on electronic monitors worn by people on parole, probation, or on bail. http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/ap-impact-ankle-bracelet-alarms-unchecked-19795774#.UfUpGAvT6SI.email
They cite several instances when the supervising authorities failed to respond to alarms which resulted in people committing serious crimes. Clearly this issue needs addressing. But much more numerous and unmentioned are the times when technological failures result in people on the monitors wrongly getting hauled off to prison or jail, losing employment opportunities, missing out on chances to keep their life on track. The reference point on electronic monitoring in this story, as almost everywhere, is the idea of public safety.
In this case, what they actually mean is protection from crime,which is a small part of public safety-access to health care, education, employment being the bigger parts. Protection from crime must always be considered in the context of rights. This is why we have the notion of “innocent until proven guilty.” Yet there is little discussion about the rights of people on parole or probation, especially those on ankle bracelets.
The emphasis on the technical failures of electronic monitoring which lead to crime heads us down a path of making monitoring simply more punitive rather than balancing freedom from crime with the rights of people on parole, probation, or bail. We don’t need to make electronic monitoring more like being incarcerated in your home.
The Bigger Picture
We need to see the bigger picture and not respond to headline media crimes with cries for harsher measures. The vast, vast majority of people on monitoring are quietly going about trying to keep their lives together. The policy makers and the media need to give them that chance, not look for headline stories which put all people on parole and probation in the same box.
The European Union has published a draft recommendation on electronic monitoring. According to British researcher Mike Nellis, one of the members of the team working on the document, the final version will likely be approved later this year.
While the draft stops short of fully advancing a human rights agenda for monitoring, it contains important clauses which state:
“monitoring shall not be executed in a manner restricting the rights and freedoms of a suspect or an offender to a greater extent than provided for the by the decision imposing it”
The draft extends this agenda to take into account the “rights and interests of families and third parties in the place to which the suspect or offender is confined.”
Apart from these rights recognitions, the document spells out some limitations on the conditions of monitoring regimes, warning that they should not be “so restrictive as to prevent a reasonable quality of everyday life in the community” and that the conditions should “prevent the negative effects of isolation.”
In listening to the stories of people in the US on monitoring and studying the laws and contracts which apply to those being monitored, nowhere have I encountered an explicit acknowledgement of rights akin to what is in the EU document. Policy makers and legislators in the US would do well to study the directions taken by the European Union in order to ensure that electronic monitoring does not lapse into a virtual incarceration in the home with families bearing the costs and emotional trauma of that incarceration. To read the entire EU document go here.
Last year two San Antonio high schools compelled all students to carry i.d. cards with computer chips inside that allowed authorities to monitor their location. Today, the school district announced that they have dropped the program. This initiative had sparked widespread protests from parents and civil rights groups who considered this an invasion of the rights of the students. In light of the recent NSA eavesdropping revelations, one might wonder where the data on students might have finished up. Anyway, this is one surveillance state story with a happy ending for now. Read more at:
Orlando attorney Blair Jackson has written an article in the Faulkner Law Review where he argues that electronic monitoring is overused as a condition of bail, that judges put people on monitors for “no reason whatsoever.”
This begs the question: when is electronic monitoring an alternative to incarceration and when is it an add on that actually costs taxpayers more money and restricts the freedom of people on monitors unnecessarily? Here is the link to an interview with Jackson. More on this issue to come in my next blog.