Voice of the Monitored

Keeping an eye on the monitors


July 2014

Monitors on Mothers At the Border Is Not the Solution

52,000 at fenceThe New York Times has published a story about how ICE is dealing with the 52,000 immigrant children on US borders: electronic monitoring. They have begun to release some people onto monitoring programs. As, Carmen Garcia, a woman from El Salvador stated when they put an ankle bracelet on her: “Why are you putting this on? We’re not assassins. We’re not thieves. We’ve come to save our lives.”

The use of monitors is not a solution to the crisis of refugees on the Southwest border of the US.  This is a political crisis that requires a political, not  technological solution. As a 2012 report from the Rutgers Law School concluded: putting immigrants on monitors is the equivalent of detention. It is not an alternative. Such moves are being driven by the profit motives of the major private corrections companies like The GEO Group who are heavily invested in monitoring of immigrants. The GEO Group, through its wholly-owned subsidiary, BI Incorporated has some 7,000 immigrants awaiting adjudication on monitors right now. The 52,000 on the border currently are simply a new niche market opportunity for these private companies.  Immigration policy should not be dictated by the profit interests of companies like the GEO Group who are invested in both private detention centers and electronic monitoring. No matter what punitive solution emerges, the GEO Group makes money. Yet another reason why a political solution to a refugee crisis  is the answer, not treating these 52,000 like criminals.

To read the New York Time story click here.

To read the Rutgers Law School report, click here.

People Confront Exclusion Zones

exclusion zonesSteven Yoder has written a wonderful piece which describes how people in various communities are fighting back against the use of exclusion zones, especially as a condition of electronic monitoring. Exclusion zones most frequently are used against people with sex offense convictions.  The rules for exclusion zones typically ban certain groups of people from coming within a certain distance of places where children are likely to congregate-like schools, parks, and churches. The state of Florida set exclusion zones as all areas within 2500 feet of any of those targeted places. This effectively left people with sex offenses with nowhere they could legally live.  Activities like traveling on a bus or commuting to work became a nightmare as they inevitably involved entering exclusion zones. For people on a monitor, the device sounds an alarm if the person on the bracelet enters an exclusion zone. Certain California cities have also applied exclusion zones to people with gang histories.

Exclusion zones have at least three serious problems. First, they are a definite violation of the rights of those whom they target.  Rather than being an effective method to prevent crime, they are simply a form of virtual incarceration creating the equivalent of a modern day cohort of lepers-people beyond redemption who are permanently ostracized. This has nothing to do with justice or crime prevention. It is just ongoing punishment. Second, exclusion zones set a dangerous precedent. So far they have been applied mainly to people with sex offense or gang histories. But who will be the next to be pulled into the net? Those with mental health issues? substance abuse histories? People with a history of school expulsion? the undocumented? those with any kind of criminal background at all? Exclusion zones, especially as GPS technology becomes more sophisticated and common, can re-shape our cities, keeping certain people out of the areas where the “good” people live, work and play. We need to find a way for more and more people to live together in peace and some kind of prosperity, not look for new technological methods to exclude the poor and powerless.

To read Steven Yoder’s article click here.


World Pilot for Suicide Detection Monitor in Nebraska Jail

Risk WatchLast week the cutting edge of criminal justice technology shifted to Gage County, Nebraska. Sheriff Millard “Gus” Gustafson, who presides over the county’s 30- bed jail, announced that Gage would be the site for the world pilot of a suicide detection device called AliveLock. The system consists of a smart bracelet called a RiskWatch, connected to a forefinger shield much like those used to measure blood oxygen. The RiskWatch will measure various vital signs and trigger an alarm through a computer if the technology indicates the individual is in danger of committing suicide. Despite its small population, Gage County Jail has had two suicides in the past year.

The inventor of AliveLock, Melanie Bailey, used to work under Gustafson as a corrections officer at Gage County. She is also co-founder of Pacific Place Enterprises, the Lincoln-based firm that is marketing the device. Bailey intended that the device help “county jails find ways to safely house” people with mental illness. She indicated AliveLock could be especially effective in old style jails with bars and numerous other points where individuals could potentially hang themselves. In a telephone interview, Gustafson said he thought the RiskWatch “could really help the correction field across the country.” He also predicted it would make Bailey a “rich woman” one day.

AliveLock represents the latest advance in a rising trend toward technologies of carceral control.  The search continues for a techno-corrections miracle to reverse the disastrous consequences of more than three decades of mass incarceration. In a troubled criminal justice sector increasingly dominated by the discourse of evidence-based and research-based solutions, technology offers a simplistic but ultimately ineffective counter to prison abolitionists and advocates of Justice Reinvestment who insist that mass incarceration is grounded in a racialized criminalization of the poor.

The advent of AliveLock also reflects the enormous battle carceral facilities have with the growing number of mentally people in custody. According to a 2014 report by national advocacy group TAC, in 2012 jails and prison housed over 350,000 people with serious mental illness, more than ten times the number residing the nation’s rapidly disappearing mental health institutions. Moreover, suicides have become almost commonplace, as the recent exposure of suicides in Riker’s Island in New York demonstrates. Across the country, sheriffs and corrections officials are begging for more funding to add mental health pods onto their existing facilities. Even officials at San Quentin forwarded plans to add a psychiatric hospital to the prison’s Death Row. Attempts to complement existing prisons and jails with mental health facilities are seen by opponents as a vehicle for garnering continued funding for corrections in a climate where the time worn mantras of public safety and “tough on crime” have lost their public appeal. Though the producers have not yet made the price of AliveLock public, clearly it is a cheaper option than building new mental health beds.

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