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electronic monitoring

Los Angeles Monitors Failing Badly

According to an Associated Press report, one in four electronic monitors in Los Angeles County is faulty.  The report comes as a result of an audit done of the performance of the provider, Sentinel Offender Services, a firm that has been contracting with the county since 1995.  The AP story emphasized that the situation was “allowing dangerous felons to sometimes roam freely for days at a time.” What was missing from the account, was whether any people on monitors were falsely reported away from their homes and disciplined or even returned to custody because of faulty equipment. My own research and interviews with people on monitors reveals that technical faults are common and many people have been wrongly rearrested because their device reported that they were in a forbidden location. In the LA County case reported by the AP, one individual allegedly had to have his device replaced eleven times because of malfunctions. The use of electronic monitors has escalated in California as a result of Governor Jerry Brown’s “realignment” program which has moved thousands of people from overcrowded state prisons to overcrowded county jails. Many counties have opted to release people who have been “realigned” by putting them on electronic monitors.

To read the story on Los Angeles County go here.

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

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

“You just turned my family’s house into another cell”

SHAWN HARRIS OF LANSING MI TALKS ABOUT BEING ON ELECTRONIC MONITORING

Shawn Harris thumbnailShawn Harris spent a year on electronic monitoring as a condition of his parole in Michigan. Today he works for a re-entry program in Lansing, helping other people deal with transitioning to the streets after prison.  Many of the people he works with are on some form of monitoring, either GPS, which tracks your movements in real time, or the Radio Frequency (also known as the tether) which merely informs the authorities of whether you are at home or not.

I spoke with Shawn about his own experience of being on both GPS and the tether as well as some of the problems other people he knows have encountered with monitoring. (click on photo to hear first part of interview.)  Shawn was quick to point out that GPS and the tether are not only applied to people with sex offense histories. While a 2006 law made lifetime GPS mandatory for certain categories of sex offenses, he points out that more and more people on normal parole are having electronic monitoring added to their regime.  In off camera discussions, he noted that this is just how the system works, that it is based on the money gained through incarceration. He believes that monitoring increases the probability that people will end up back in prison. As he put it, the system runs non-stop “like a hamster wheel…it goes round and round and round and everybody’s gettin’ their money.”

I have posted here four excerpts from our extended interview.

In the first excerpt Shawn talks about how when you are put on GPS you feel like the Department of Corrections “just turned my family’s house into another cell.” He spoke about the difficulties many families have with a loved one who is stuck in the house all day.  They need “breathing room” as he puts it, but there is little to be found.

In the second video, he talks about trying to find work while wearing an ankle bracelet.  The first obstacle he notes is that many people have a difficult time getting permission to leave the house to go to a job interview or even for the actual work shift. Then many employers will turn you away when they see that ankle bracelet.  He advises women going for job interviews while on monitoring to wear anything but a dress.

In the third video, he talks about the financial burden of being on GPS or the tether.  Many people don’t realize that those on monitoring have to pay a daily fee that may run into the thousands over the course of a year.  While Shawn’s estimates varied a little during the interview, he estimated his total costs were up to $6,000 for his year on monitoring.  Others have reported paying about $13 a day for GPS which comes to about $4,745 for a year. Some systems also require a land line, which is an additional cost.  Regardless of the exact amounts, the costs are considerable for a cohort that is largely unemployed or working in low-paying, part-time jobs. Those who can’t pay, have to work it off through doing community service.

In the final video, Shawn responds to my question of what advice he would give to the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) about how they should run their program of electronic monitoring. His answers may come as bit of a surprise to people, especially those in the MDOC itself.

This interview is part of my research project, Monitoring the Monitors.  One of the key goals of this project is to present the stories of those on electronic monitoring-how it effects their daily lives, the job chances, their relationships, their chances of transitioning to the streets.

Protection From Crime Does Not Equal Public Safety

greg's bracelet 1

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.

Company Offers SWAT Team With Ankle Bracelets

According to the compaEM operational forcesny website entitled “Monitor Inmates” a firm  headed by Chey Rodriguez promises to add a new twist to electronic monitoring services- a Special Operations Team to arrest anyone who violates the conditions of their ankle bracelet regime.  The photo at right appears on their website, implying that these are their forces which allow them to bypass “local agencies.” The firm, which seems a bit evasive about actually providing their name on the website, also offers a technology that claims to not only monitor location but alcohol and drug consumption all in the same package.  They boast of successful operations in Spain and Peru and are ecstatic that San Bernadino County in California has added ankle bracelets to the probation regime of alleged gang members. The firm’s Executive Offices are in Miami, FL but they list satellites in Denmark, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados as well as a production site in Cleveland with a post office box address.  To have a look at their special operations promises visit: http://www.monitorinmates.net/services/electronic-bracelet-violation-special-task-force/

G4S Under Investigation for Overcharging for Electronic Monitoring in the UK

The global security firm G4S is under investigation on contracts for electronic monitoring in the UK valued at more than a billion dollars.  International auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has been called into scrutinize the details of this 2005 deal, which involved G4S and another security firm, Serco. G4S is a mega-player in the industry with  an annual turnover of more than ten billion dollars and operations in 125 countries, including the US. Allegations include overcharging to an extent that according to one source, the cost of monitoring in the UK was more than ten times the figure for the US. While it is too early to determine the result in this case, the incident does remind us that electronic monitoring is big business and that global security firms like G4S (which botched the security for the 2012 London Olympics) and the US-based GEO Group view EM as a future source of enormous profits.  Untapped markets include the more than four million people on parole and probation in the US, high school students identified as disciplinary problems and undocumented workers.  Although in many minor criminal cases electronic monitoring may be a welcome relief from a jail or prison sentence, for those marketing the services future clients may more likely come from the ranks of those for whom an ankle bracelet represents an additional, profit-generating control rather than a respite from incarceration.

FAU President Resigns

GEO stadium picIn what is a first for those campaigning against private corrections companies, the President of Florida Atlantic University (FAU), Mary Jane Saunders has resigned. While she was embroiled in a number of controversies, the major issue for Saunders was the GEO Group stadium fiasco. Under Saunders’ watch FAU granted naming rights for its football stadium to the GEO Group, the country’s second largest private prison owner and LARGEST SUPPLIER OF ELECTRONIC MONITORING TECHNOLOGY AND SUPPORT. The naming rights came as a result of a six million dollar donation to FAU by GEO. However, a campaign initiated by students of the college which eventually drew national support, forced GEO to withdraw its name and funding. So a venture that George Zoley, the CEO of GEO, had once called the “finest example of community outreach our company has activated in its history,” backfired and now cost Saunders her job.  If only the scandals in GEO-run prisons and its excessive advocacy work to promote expanded use of electronic monitoring drew such instant results as the football stadium debacle.

Ridiculous Legal Wrangles Block Electronic Monitoring In Chicago

Today the Chgregs-bracelet-11.jpgicago Tribune reports that a spat between Sheriff Thomas Dart and Chief Judge Timothy Evans has brought the release of pre-trial people on electronic monitoring to a virtual standstill. In recent years, Cook County, where Chicago is located, has run the largest pre-trial monitoring in the country-claiming that over 250,000 people have been put on monitors by local authorities.  From July 1, 2012 to November 13, 2012, the county sent about 25 people per day back onto the streets while their cases were processed. Then somewhere along the way Judge Evans changed the language of his decisions from “orders” to “recommendations” and electronic monitoring ground to a halt. The situation came to a public head in an epic TV debate between Dart and Evans. The Judge argued he was giving some discretion to the Sheriff about who was to be monitored. The Sheriff responded by saying he needed an order, not a recommendation. And so it goes.  Who is going to step in and halt this battle of egos which keeps people locked up when they should be working and with their families. Who is going to intervene and stop the already over-crowded Cook County jail from teeming with even more people who often end  up being shipped out to other jurisdictions.

One of the most effective uses of electronic monitoring is for pre-trial people. Though the rules and regulations don’t always function in a rehabilitative way, the solution is not to halt the program while the giant egos at the top battle it out. Rather let the authorities come to their senses and continue with monitoring and keep yet to be convicted people out of the horrific confines of Cook County jail.

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