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Voice of the Monitored

Keeping an eye on the monitors

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November 2013

G4S Admits to $38m fraud in UK Electronic Monitoring Scheme

g4s-protestG4S which likes to market itself as the “world’s  leading security company” admitted yesterday to defrauding the UK government of about $38 million (24m pounds) in overcharges for electronic monitoring fees. The overcharging, which included billing for the monitoring of people who were deceased or had been sent back to prison. The admission comes after the company commissioned the law firm of Linklater to do a review of their electronic monitoring contracts. In a stunning comment in response to the review’s findings of overcharging and charging of people who had long since been taken off monitoring a company statement said G4S had : “wrongly considered itself to be contractually entitled to bill for monitoring services when equipment had not been fitted or after it had been removed.”  In other words, the world’s largest security company doesn’t understand the idea that a firm is not entitled to collect revenue for services it is not providing.

The G4S case will come before a parliamentary committee this week. The company will be joined by Serco another provider of monitoring services in the United Kingdom. This is not the only scandal brewing in the ranks of  G4S. Just last month, a South African Minister of Corrections took over a 2,900 bed private prison run by G4S in the country’s Free State province. An independent study had uncovered systematic abuse of prisoners, including forced administration of psychotropic medications and regular usage of electroshock to discipline men living in the facility. Earlier in the year the company lost bids for  security contracts at two British universities when students protested over G4S involvement in providing security for Israeli border control and settlements.

To read the Guardian report on the G4S electronic monitoring case go to: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/nov/19/g4s-admits-overcharging-ministry-of-justice-tagging

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Personal Reflections on Electronic Monitoring

Somewhgregs-bracelet-11.jpgere in the middle of a November night in 2009 I got a phone call from my then 95 year old mother. She said she had chest pains, had already phoned 911 and thought she was having a heart attack.  Since she only lived about a ten minute drive away, my first instinct was to jump in the car and rush to her side. Instead, I dialed the 800 number  the Illinois Department of Corrections had provided me for emergencies. Like thousands of people in the U.S., I was on an ankle bracelet as part of the conditions of my parole.  I couldn’t leave the house unless I had permission from my parole agent.  After listening several times to the IDOC’s recording of how important my call was to them, a woman picked up the phone. I told her my story. She told me I could only go if I had permission from my parole agent.  She said she would contact him and see what he had to say. Unless I’d committed a triple homicide or gotten caught with a truckload of heroin, my parole agent wasn’t going to be respond at three in the morning.  I had to decide: go to the hospital anyway, explain it to the agent in the morning and hope for the best or wait it out until six a.m. when I had permission to leave the house. I opted to wait the three hours. Fortunately it wasn’t a heart attack and she was sent home that afternoon. That same morning I phoned my parole agent and asked him if I could leave the house without permission should a similar situation arise in the future.  He said it was a “grey area.”  After six and a half years in prison, I knew that grey areas were places you don’t go.

After that night I began to ask a few more questions about electronic monitoring. For most people, it’s just something for the rich and famous who run afoul of the law. Martha Stewart was on an ankle bracelet, as were Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Charley Sheen. The other cohort that gets associated with ankle bracelets are people with sex offense registries. They love to put them on monitors.  Most people seem to have the idea that an ankle bracelet is just a little black box they attach to your leg and then it’s business as usual. Whenever I try to explain electronic monitors to people, they usually say “at least it’s better than being in jail.” Well, that’s true. I’d rather be on an ankle bracelet any day than in Menard or even the local county jail.  But that’s not the point.

Electronic monitoring is supposed to be an “alternative” to incarceration. Something very different, that lets people work, go to school or participate in family activities. In many instances, that’s true. But electronic monitoring can be something quite different, something far more draconian.

I’ve interviewed lots of people who’ve been on monitors.  A few have no complaints. Their parole agent lets them come and go as they please and the monitor doesn’t get in their way other than every once in awhile when someone sees that bump on their ankle and looks at them kinda funny.

Far more people have a lot of concerns about these monitors.  Shawn Harris who was on a monitor for a year in Michigan described being on parole with monitor as changing  “from a prison setting to a housing setting which is now your new cell.” Jean-Pierre Shackelford who spent nearly three years on a monitor in Ohio called it “ 21st century slavery, electronic  style.” Richard Stapelton, who worked for more than three decades in the Michigan Department of Corrections depicted monitoring people on  parole as   “another burdensome condition of extending their incarceration.”

Why do some people get so riled up about being on a monitor? First of all, house arrest is not always very pleasant.  You may be jammed into a one bedroom apartment with four or five family members. You become an imposition to them.  And usually authorities provide you with no clear cut guidelines about what you can and cannot do.  While monitoring supposedly gives you freedom to move, final authority rests with the supervisor and there are no avenues of appeal. So if you want to visit your child or enroll in a class, your parole agent can simply refuse and you have to accept it.  If you’ve never been on parole or probation, you need to know that not all parole and probation officers are nice people who are trying to look after you. Some are. Mine actually was quite reasonable.  But too many are what we call “haters.” They like to do whatever they can to make your life difficult –as we say “because they can.”

The second problem is that with modern GPS-linked ankle bracelets they know where you are at every moment.  This allows supervisors to place very strict rules on your movements. I know one man who was only allowed to shop in three stores: Meijer, Walgreen’s and the Dollar Store. If he went anywhere else he could be violated and sent back to prison. Another person I know once stopped for eight minutes to talk to someone on his street who was having a yard sale.  The next day he got a call from his parole agent asking him what he was doing at that house since it wasn’t on his list of approved addresses. The agent warned that repeating this transgression, that is attending an unauthorized yard sale for eight minutes,  could land him back in prison.

The third problem is the cost. Most people these days pay a daily fee to be on a monitor-anywhere from five to seventeen dollars. Such charges are okay if you are Martha Stewart, but if you are unemployed and just finished ten years in prison, three months of monitoring charges can sink you into a deep financial hole.

So does that mean we should stop using monitors in criminal justice?  Not just yet. But monitors should be administered in a way that gives the person on the bracelet the freedom they need to get their life together, not with a long laundry list of restrictions which set an individual up for going back to prison because the bus arrives five minutes late and they don’t get back home by the prescribed hour.  A person on monitoring should have rights to movement for necessary activities like seeking work and getting medical treatment and taking part in family activities. If those rights are denied, they should have an avenue of appeal.

Lastly, lose those daily charges for electronic monitoring.  Being on an ankle bracelet is part of what a criminal justice system is supposed to do, part of why we pay taxes.  If our taxes can’t cover the costs of criminal justice, then we should either arrest and punish fewer people or raise taxes. No one, either the parole people or private monitoring companies, should be sucking the last dollar out of poor peoples’ pockets  so they can pay the operating cost of an electronic monitor.

http://publici.ucimc.org/?p=50069

Biohacker Implants Cigarette Pack-Sized Chip: Why?

biohackerchipPittsburgh software designer Tim Cannon has taken the odd and scary step of implanting a chip called a Circadia  in his arm. The device, which is about the size of a pack of cigarettes, can record his body temperature and report it to his phone. Not exactly something that will register on Edward Snowden’s radar but enough to raise some questions. First of all, Cannon did this without anesthetic. He used ice and the cutting expertise of a friendly tatoo artist. Seems like a lot of pain to get your temperature. What is he actually thinking?

His comments in a Fox New article provide some clues. Cannon has a broader vision for this type of technology-linking our bodily workings to the environment. In his scheme of things the future might hold this scenario:  “I think that our environment should listen more accurately and more intuitively to what’s happening in our body..so if, for example, I’ve had a stressful day, the Circadia will communicate that to my house and will prepare a nice relaxing atmosphere for when I get home: dim the lights, [draw] a hot bath.”

Cannon’s idyllic notion of hot baths and dim lights certainly seems to skid right around the more likely use of chip implants-for social control.  We already have bionic livers connected up to people which can deliver medication. But what about criminal justice applications? Just last week we presented the case in this blog of ankle bracelets on San Francisco children who missed a few days of school.  With chip implants a range of tracking and punishment functions are possible-from messages to the authorities upon ingestion of drugs to delivery of pacifying chemical substances to “criminals” whose blood levels may be indicating anxiety.  While part of Tim Cannon’s actual dream includes wanting one day to become a “robot”, for many of us the battle is more to maintain our humanity and sense of self-determination in the face of technological control and eavesdropping rather than trying to become more like a machine. As for me, I’d rather rely on my own labor to draw that hot bath and dim the lights than an implant.

To read about Tim Cannon go to: http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2013/11/04/biohacker-implants-chip-in-arm/

Court Okays Ankle Bracelet for Truant High School Students in San Francisco

On Friday, Nov. 1 the San Francisco Chronicle reported the story of a local high school girl who was placed on an ankle bracelet because of excessive truancy in 2011. The girl appealed the case, arguing that truancy was not a crime and that the legal framework did not allow punishment through the use of an electronic monitor.   District Court Maria Rivera and two other justices upheld the use of the device, holding that:

“A GPS condition assists the court in monitoring a minor’s compliance with a curfew” and can be required for a youth who “continues a pattern of truancy and violates curfew.”

The use of GPS on students is but another twist of the school to prison pipeline, preparing youth in poor communities to be under the control of the state.  Amazingly, according to the Chronicle article, the court defines excessive truancy as missing four days of school in a year as “excessive” and warranting legal sanction.

This decision represents a huge victory for the companies that provide electronic monitoring devices and support services.  They are focusing considerable energy on opening up “new markets” for their technology.  This decision gives them a foot in the door of an enormous potential clientele-students of all ages.

In the meantime, the student in this case is taking her appeal to the State Supreme Court.  Watch this space for developments.

For more on this story, visit:

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