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“Wearing An Ankle Bracelet Might Be Worse Than Jail Time”

MTM1MTM3NDc2NzI0NDUzMzQ2This article by Julie Morse for the Pacific Standard  summarizes some interesting research by UC Berkeley Law Professor Kate Weisburd.  She did work on the use of electronic monitoring with juveniles in California and found that in many cases it failed to save money, was extremely punitive and often landed young people back behind bars. She calls for a re-think of the legal status of EM as well. Very thought-provoking and great to see that some legal scholars are now looking at this through a lens other than recidivism.  Now we just need to deepen the dialog about the “rights of the monitored.”

Link to the article:

http://www.psmag.com/politics-and-law/wearing-an-electronic-monitoring-device-might-be-worse-than-jail-time

Link to Professor Weisbrud’s article on her research:

http://ilr.law.uiowa.edu/files/ilr.law.uiowa.edu/files/ILR_101-1_Weisburd.pdf

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Reflections on My Visit to the Confederation of European Probation, December 2014

I had the extreme pleasure of being invited to the semi-annual meeting of the European Confederation of Probation(CEP) in Frankfurt, Germany in early December. I spent three days with over 200 people from more than 30 countries who have a deep interest in electronic monitoring. While the majority of them worked in probation, there were also judges, police, researchers, government officials and entrepreneurs. In addition, I took part in the program, making a presentation about the state of electronic monitoring in the US while describing some of my own experiences on the monitor as well as the material I have gathered from interviewing other people. A copy of my presentation is posted at the CEP website.
Even though no country in Europe uses electronic monitors as frequently as the US on a per capita basis, the complexity of debate among the participants in the conference far exceeded anything I have encountered on this side of the Atlantic. Three things stood out for me.
Monitors and Human Rights-The Europeans Care
The first was that for nearly everyone there, the monitor should not be imposed without a careful consideration of the human rights implications of putting a tracking device on a person. A complex debate has taken place, particularly in Germany, over various aspects of this question. Whereas most discussion in the US focuses on mechanisms of control or recidivism impact, the Europeans recognize that monitoring someone’s location and activities is both punitive and a distinct invasion of privacy which needs to be thought about carefully before implementation. Given the German experience of both the Third Reich and the East German Stasi, it is not surprising that such matters would gain considerable attention there. In fact, at the Federal level, the German government has discouraged the use of monitors. Only one state, Hesse, (where the conference took place) has implemented monitoring and they only use it on 68 people. The human rights questions largely revolve around access to data. The Germans are concerned that data collected through monitoring can be used in criminal investigations which actually don’t meet the notion of probable cause. So, for example, in the implementation of a GPS location monitoring system local judge Silke Eilzer summarized the current wisdom in Germany: that police should not be able to examine the location of everyone on a monitor in a specific town when a crime was committed. Rather, before electronic monitoring data could be accessed at all, there would need to be probable cause that a particular person on a monitor had a link to the crime and then only that person’s data could be introduced into an investigation. Eilzer also shared concerns about how long data from EM should be kept. At present, German authorities are required to delete data after two months, a startlingly short period to most people in the audience.
Dominic Lehner, a prominent Swiss lawyer with a range of experience inside and outside the criminal justice system and a major driver of EM policy in the EU, raised an issue in response to a device that one company had produced that tracked not only location, but movement and temperature. So, for example, the device could report whether the person was lying down or standing up, if they were in a sauna or a walk-in cooler, if they were jogging in place or standing. Lehner was especially bothered by the potential for this device to record a person’s activities in the bedroom-which for him was unacceptable. Concerns for what I call the “rights of the monitored” rarely find expression in US discussions about electronic monitoring. The perspectives of Eizler and Lehner were incredibly refreshing.
Probation Officers Are Social Workers, Not Cops!!!
Second, spokespeople from every country put forward EM as a tool, not as a solution. There was no attraction to EM as a quick-fix. From the UK, where it is used the most often and where the incarceration rate is higher than most of Western Europe, a person on a monitor would always be assigned a probation officer, which in European terms means social worker. (In fact in some countries, a person has to be a trained social worker to be a probation officer.) While rehabilitation departed from most jurisdictions in the US some two decades ago, it remains at the center of the criminal justice debate and practice in Europe.
In this vein, during my presentation I noted that if I were called upon to speak to a gathering this size of probation officers in the U.S., I would be a little fearful, as many of them have assumed policing rather than supporting roles. Jaws dropped open when I told them that parole officers in some states carry guns and that they (and probation officers) may do unannounced searches of houses looking for drugs and other contraband. This CEP gathering was a collection of earnest souls, focused on getting their clients onto a positive life track, not wanna-be CSI investigators trying to catch their charges out of bounds. What a delightful change.
Third, the relationship to the technology was different. While Radio Frequency (RF) devices still exist in many places in the US, most people regard them as the EM equivalent of a flip phone-second rate technology from a bygone era. But in Europe, the limited capacity of RF (it can only tell whether a person is at home but cannot pinpoint their location once they leave the house), is seen as an advantage for many people characterized as “low risk.” The regimes of “curfew” typically allow people out of the house up to 12, even 14 hours a day, providing them with desired levels of freedom. Ultimately the devices seemed intended to keep people at home during night time, when most “trouble” happens, rather than aiming at controlling and monitoring their every move. Countries like Sweden and even the UK have not used GPS at all because of the privacy concerns about tracking someone’s moves and the massive amount of data generated which allows cataloging behavior patterns, associations, and activities which are mostly not considered the business of probation.
Vendors Trying to Grapple with Human Rights As Well
In addition to these three notions about monitoring, one of the most surprising aspects of the conference was the sponsorship and the high level presence of vendors of the technology. At first I viewed this with concern, thinking that the conference would be little more than a marketing venture. And while the companies did do their marketing, they also engaged intensely with participants about what probation officers would and would not like to see in future electronic monitoring devices. Engineer Urs Hunkeler, who is a leading force in the recent Swiss monitoring startup Geosatis, co-facilitated an incredibly stimulating workshop in which he focused on matching up the capacities of the engineering world with the needs and wants of probation officers. While like all engineers he had great enthusiasm for the capacity of the technology to capture and archive information, he also listened with an attentive ear to the human rights concerns of these end users. While public-private partnerships often contain a rather minimal influence from the public side, in this case I felt that the industry and the users were attempting to grow together to get a device that would minimize technical difficulties for the users (things like short life of batteries and losing signal) and a size and design that would represent less of stigma to many people. This quote from one of the evaluations from a company representative, echoed this perspective: “I used to say “We are one of those companies who don’t like their customers (Offenders)”, but this conference made me think beyond, at the end of the day offenders are human beings. This conference opens up a new door for me to think from their perspective. The solutions we make should be thought of their day to day practical and social impact on their way of life.”
Concerns
While the debate and overall direction were positive, there were some areas of concern. Belgium, for example, one of high per capita users of electronic monitoring on the continent, is moving to a much tighter GPS/house arrest which would make it almost impossible for those on a monitor to work a night shift job or take part in evening activities. And while the presentations were well-researched and stimulating, apart from myself, no one spoke directly from their own experience of being on a monitor. Although the local Germans require all their probation officers to wear an ankle bracelet for two or three weeks, the stigma and discomfort of the device don’t begin to equate with the institutional control and the threat of reincarceration that comes with most EM regimes, especially those in the US. The voice of the monitored and their loved ones needs a presence in such gatherings.
Lastly, no one seemed to have any startling predictions about the future of electronic monitoring, nor was there a sense of extreme urgency to move forward. Perhaps the CEP has achieved its pinnacle with the completion of a recommendation on electronic monitoring adopted by the European Union in February, 2014. The document, which hopefully will acquire some hegemony and influence implementation, carefully balances human rights, rehabilitation and public safety concerns. It has been a great influence on my own work in the US. However, as Dominic Lehner asked in the opening session, “what good is a recommendation?” The answer is obvious, not much if there is no way to ensure its implementation, and a world of good if people take its spirit into their daily work.
I did leave the conference wondering where monitoring might be heading in Europe. In a continent with an incarceration rate of less than a quarter of that of the US, (and in some countries less than 10% of the US rate) the pressure to decarcerate hasn’t reached critical mass. Nonetheless as rising trends toward austerity push governments to reduce spending on corrections, even in some of the low incarceration states in Europe, EM may gain more popularity. Poland where the Ministry of Justice has put ankle bracelets on 35,000 people in the If other countries go the way of Poland, at least any expansion will have been preceded by a serious debate around the human rights and privacy concerns that the technology raises. Sadly, no such debate has occurred at all in the US, where major research and policy focus continues to be cost-cutting, collecting meta data for recidivism studies of dubious statistical validity, and developing more effective systems of control. In the present environment, where mass incarceration has lost considerable favor in the US, a push toward EM is still a distinct possibility. If this does happen, I can only hope that it will include the kind of serious debate that has taken place in the EU and continuous gatherings of human rights oriented practitioners such as the CEP conference to make sure the bracelet does not become a high-tech version of incarceration or as an Jean-Pierre Shackelford, who spent three years on a monitor referred to it, “twenty first century slavery, electronic style.”

L A Youth and the Monitor

Chuco’s Justice Center in Los Angeles: Home of “College Prep, Not Prison Prep”

YJC member Tanisha Denard speaks to another youth at a community rally

In August I travelled to California as part of my research into the use of electronic monitoring in the criminal justice system. My first stop was a converted factory along the border between South Central Los Angeles and Inglewood, Chuco’s Justice House. Chuco’s houses a variety of social justice projects. The name honors Jesse “Chuco” Becerra, a community activist killed in the streets of this neighborhood in 2003.

The Shackle of a “Chattel Slave”

My investigations began with Ernest Shepard, who spent 45 years locked up in California state prisons. Paroled in 2011, “Ern” had three months on a monitor. As an African American man, he said the black plastic band looked like a shackle and made him feel “like a chattel slave.” He felt a constant urge to remove it-as a test of his own integrity. “If I don’t rebel,” he used to think to himself, “what kinda dude am I?”

Fortunately Ern was surrounded by people from Fair Chance, a reentry project based at Chuco’s. He said the people at Fair Chance kept him focused on the “bigger picture.” Today Ern sits a month from completing parole, devoting his life to helping others who are coming home from prison.

From Ern, I moved to the larger canvas of the Youth Justice Coalition (YJC). Founded in the early 2000s, YJC’s mission is to “build a youth, family and prisoner-led movement to challenge race, gender and class inequality in the Los Angeles County and California juvenile injustice system.” YJC runs Free LA High School which provides academic education as well as training in social justice organizing. Through a collective process, YJC helps shape a new world for African American and Latino/a youth who have been cast into the school to prison pipeline by mainstream America. The YJC banner across the main conference room at Chuco’s reads, “college prep, not prison prep.” YJC members are high profile participants in campaigns against the LA No More Jails. They also push their 1% project―a proposal to reallocate 1% of the county law enforcement budget to youth programs.

I did a group interview, sitting around a table with eight youth and Whitney Richards-Calathes, a Ph.D. student and YJC Board member. As the only white person and the only one over thirty in the room, I thought carefully about how to break the ice. Bags of Cheetos and bottles of sweetened tea in the center of the room helped, as well as my own experience of incarceration and being on a monitor. In any case, the youth quickly opened up.

Special Room in a High School to Charge Monitors

Electronic monitoring was familiar territory here, part of the punishment package the system has visited upon young people of color. Twenty-one year old Jerry Bates told me he had been to one high school which had a special room for students on ankle bracelets to charge their monitors.  Most ankle bracelets need to be plugged into a wall socket twice a day or they lose signal, possibly prompting an alarm or even an arrest.

Nineteen year old Tanisha Denard helped focus the discussion.  Placed on a monitor as a result of a petty theft case, she found the device “terrifying” initially. She didn’t understand how it worked or what it could do. Her fear turned to frustration under the house arrest regime that accompanied the bracelet.  “I wouldn’t say I’d rather be in jail (but) you might as well be in jail. You all take house arrest but then when you are at home for a couple days, it’s just like you’re in jail. Even if you’re the kind of person who never goes out, you start feeling it.”

“They give you the worst options, a strike or take this deal (the monitor),” another youth added. Jerry described the bracelet as “a way of keeping you locked up without having to lock you up” as well as a way “to make money off of you.”

“It Decreases You”

Christian Salazar perhaps best summed up the group sentiment toward the monitor in a single word “stressful.” He said “It decreases you…your personality… It takes a whole lifetime to build a character and it only takes one second to shatter it and everybody looks at you and says he really was a bad kid.” At age 17 he chose the bracelet over eight months in a juvenile boot camp.

While some people complained about the discomfort of the device or not being able to wear it in the shower, the key issue remained the stress highlighted by Salazar. Michelle Watson recalled how a friend of hers went “crazy” with the monitor, “crying for days. I spent four days at her house.” Michelle described how her friend kept “clawing at this thing” and “banging her leg against the wall.” She apparently thought people could watch her through the box on the bracelet.

Michelle also felt that the bracelet was demeaning. “I watch Animal Planet a lot,” she said, “When they catch these wild animals they shoot a tag through their ear and then they let them go. That’s how they do you guys. They put a tracker on you and then they let you go. That’s dehumanizing…and then you guys got to pay. That’s insane.”

Several people developed their own ways of pushing back. For example, one of the youth who preferred to remain anonymous was charged $160 to initialize the ankle bracelet service. She said she told authorities she was homeless to avoid the daily fees which come with many monitoring regimes.

Tanisha started going to church, even though she had no religious inclinations. It was the only way she could get out of the house on weekends. She had to hand over the agenda from the service to the probation officer to prove she actually attended. Others told how friends on the monitor would test the technology by dashing off to the store to buy a pack of cigarettes and see if it triggered an alarm. The technology is designed to send a message to authorities if the person being monitored leaves the house at a time where they have not been granted permission.

The Future: Everyone on GPS?

Probing the future of such technology raised serious concerns.  Christian simply raised his smart phone and said, “we already got this.” Jerry argued that they were just “testing now” and would eventually have “everyone on GPS.” Michelle agreed but added a twist, “in the future tracking will be expanded to everybody…except if you got enough money to avoid it.”

Ultimately, my conversations at Chuco’s proved both frustrating and inspiring. Ern’s image of the slave shackle wouldn’t go away. Further frustration came with discovering yet another way in which the injustice of mass incarceration and its technological tentacles reinforces race and class inequality. White students in the more comfortable parts of Los Angeles (or our local University of Illinois pupils) generally don’t have to think about having monitors on their ankle, let alone the prospect of a trip inside the Department of Corrections. Yet YJC members are already experts.  Despite their situation, the presence of an organization like the YJC demonstrates that an alternative is possible―an alternative where the voice of the poor and oppressed speaks loud and lights up the sky with great ideas. If YJC could actually get that 1% of the county’s law enforcement  budget  (1%=about $100 million according to YJC), the world for youth in their community would become a very different place and likely one without any rooms in high schools where students would go to charge their ankle bracelets.

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.

 

European Committee of Ministers Adopts New Recommendations on Electronic Monitoring

european_union_law-300x218On February 19, 2014, the European Union’s Committee of Ministers adopted a set of recommendations on electronic monitoring. These represent a major step forward in carving out specific rights for the monitored as well as in re-framing monitoring in a less punitive fashion. US jurisdictions have much to learn from this document. The crucial sections are pasted in below.

III. Basic principles

1. The use, as well as the types, duration and modalities of execution of electronic monitoring in the framework of the criminal justice shall be regulated by law.

2. Decisions to impose or revoke electronic monitoring shall be taken by the judiciary or allow for a judicial review.

3. Where electronic monitoring is used at the pre-trial phase special care needs to be taken not to net-widen its use.

4. The type and modalities of execution of electronic monitoring shall be proportionate in terms of duration and intrusiveness to the seriousness of the offence alleged or committed, shall take into account the individual circumstances of the suspect or offender and shall be regularly reviewed.

5. Electronic 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 by the decision imposing it.

6. When imposing electronic monitoring and fixing its type, duration and modalities of execution account should be taken of its impact on the rights and interests of families and third parties in the place to which the suspect or offender is confined.

7. There shall be no discrimination in the imposition or execution of electronic monitoring on the grounds of gender, race, colour, nationality, language, religion, sexual orientation, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, association with a national minority or physical or mental condition.

8. Electronic monitoring may be used as a stand-alone measure in order to ensure supervision and reduce crime over the specific period of its execution. In order to seek longer term desistance from crime it should be combined with other professional interventions and supportive measures aimed at the social reintegration of offenders.

9. Where private sector organisations are involved in the implementation of decisions imposing electronic monitoring, the responsibility for the effective treatment of the persons concerned in conformity with the relevant international ethical and professional standards shall remain with public authorities.

10. Public authorities shall ensure that all relevant information regarding private sector involvement in the delivery of electronic monitoring is transparent and shall regulate the access to it by the public.

11. Where suspects and offenders are contributing to the costs for the use of electronic monitoring, the amount of their contribution shall be proportionate to their financial situation and shall be regulated by law.

12. The handling and shared availability and use of data collected in relation to the imposition and implementation of electronic monitoring by the relevant agencies shall be specifically regulated by law.

13. Staff responsible for the implementation of decisions related to electronic monitoring shall be sufficient in number and adequately and regularly trained to carry out their duties efficiently, professionally and in accordance with the highest ethical standards. Their training shall cover data protection issues.

14. There shall be regular government inspection and avenues for independent monitoring of the agencies responsible for the execution of electronic monitoring in a manner consistent with national law.

IV. Conditions of execution of electronic monitoring at the different stages of the criminal process

1. In order to ensure compliance, different measures can be implemented in accordance with national law. In particular, the suspect’s or offender’s consent and co-operation may be sought, or dissuasive sanctions may be established.

2. The modalities of execution and level of intrusiveness of electronic monitoring at the pre-trial stage shall be proportionate to the alleged offence and shall be based on the properly assessed risk of the person absconding, interfering with the course of justice, posing a serious threat to public order or committing a new crime.

3. National law shall regulate the manner in which time spent under electronic monitoring supervision at pre-trial stage may be deducted by the court when defining the overall duration of any final sanction or measure to be served.

4. Where there is a victim protection scheme using electronic monitoring to supervise the movements of a suspect or an offender, it is essential to obtain the victim’s prior consent and every effort shall be made to ensure that the victim understands the capacities and limitations of the technology.

5. In cases where electronic monitoring relates to exclusion from, or limitation to, specific zones, efforts shall be made to ensure that such conditions of execution are not so restrictive as to prevent a reasonable quality of everyday life in the community.

6. Where substance abuse needs to be monitored, consideration shall be given to the respective intrusiveness and therapeutic and educative potential of electronic and traditional approaches when deciding which approach is to be used.

7. Electronic monitoring confining offenders to a place of residence without the right to leave it should be avoided as far as possible in order to prevent the negative effects of isolation, in case the person lives alone, and to protect the rights of third parties who may reside at the same place.

8. In order to prepare offenders for release, and depending on the type of offence and offender management programme, electronic monitoring may be used to increase the number of individual cases of short-term prison leave that are granted, or to give offenders the possibility to work outside prison or be given a placement in an open prison.

9. Electronic monitoring may be used as an alternative execution of a prison sentence, in which case its duration shall be regulated by law.

10. Electronic monitoring may be used, if needed, in case of early release from prison. In such a case, its duration shall be proportionate to the remainder of the sentence to be served.

11. If electronic monitoring is used, if needed, after the prison sentence has been served, as a post-release measure, its duration and intrusiveness shall be carefully defined, in full consideration of its overall impact on former prisoners, their families and third parties.

I. Ethical issues

1. Age, disability and other relevant specific conditions or personal circumstances of each suspect or offender shall be taken into account in deciding whether and under what modalities of execution electronic monitoring may be imposed.

2. Under no circumstances may electronic monitoring equipment be used to cause intentional physical or mental harm or suffering to a suspect or an offender.

3. Rules regarding the use of electronic monitoring shall be periodically reviewed in order to take into account the technological developments in the area so as to avoid undue intrusiveness into the private and family life of suspects, offenders and other persons affected.

I. Data protection

1. Data collected in the course of the use of electronic monitoring shall be subject to specific regulations based on the relevant international standards regarding storage, use and sharing of data.

2. Particular attention shall be paid to regulating strictly the use and sharing of such data in the framework of criminal investigations and proceedings.

3. A system of effective sanctions shall be put in place in case of careless or intentional misuse or handling of such data.

4. Private agencies providing electronic monitoring equipment or responsible for supervising persons under electronic monitoring shall be subjected to the same rules and regulations regarding handling of the data in their possession.

I. Staff

1. All relevant rules of Recommendation Rec(92)16 on the European rules on community sanctions and measures, of Recommendation Rec(97)12 on staff concerned with the implementation of sanctions and measures, of RecommendationCM/Rec(2010)1 on the Council of Europe Probation Rules and of Recommendation CM/Rec(2012)5 on the European Code of Ethics for Prison Staff, which relate to staff, shall be applicable.

 

2. Staff shall be trained to communicate sensitively with suspects and offenders, to inform them in a manner and language they understand of the use of the technology, of its impact on their private and family lives and on the consequences of its misuse.

3. Staff shall be trained to deal with victims in cases where victim support schemes are used in the framework of electronic monitoring.

4. In establishing electronic monitoring systems, consideration shall be given to the respective merits of both human and automated responses to the data gathered by the monitoring centre, bearing in mind the advantages of each.

5. Staff entrusted with the imposition or execution of electronic monitoring shall be regularly updated and trained on the handling, use and impact of the equipment on the persons concerned.

6. Staff shall be trained to install and uninstall technology and provide technical assistance and support in order to ensure the efficient and accurate functioning of the equipment.

I. Work with the public, research and evaluation

1. The general public shall be informed of the ethical and technological aspects of the use of electronic monitoring, its effectiveness, its purpose and its value as a means of restricting the liberty of suspects or offenders. Awareness shall also be raised regarding the fact that electronic monitoring cannot replace professional human intervention and support for suspects and offenders.

2. Research and independent evaluation and monitoring shall be carried out in order to help national authorities take informed decisions regarding the ethical and professional aspects of the use of electronic monitoring in the criminal process.

 

 

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

“What you’re doing is telling kids it’s normal to be tracked”

school bus imageKhaliah Barnes of the Electronic Privacy Information Center responded to the pilot project in Gordon County, GA which would put implement radio frequency (RFID) tracking on school buses. This would enable school officials (and anyone else with access to the system) to pinpoint the location of individual students who are supposed to be on the bus. Gordon County is but the latest in a string of school districts that have moved toward some kind of tracking of students.  As Barnes said, “what you’re doing is tell kids its normal to be tracked.”

For the complete article, visit: http://www.ibtimes.com/invasion-privacy-rfid-tracking-kids-school-buses-privacy-advocates-concerned-attendance-management

We have reported in this blog on previous cases in Texas.

Texas Bill Would End Mandatory Tracking of Schoolkids

Texas House Bill 101 would rule out mandatory tracking devices for school students. The Bill states the following:

school district may not require a student to use an identification device that uses radio frequency identification technology or similar technology to identify the student, transmit information regarding the student, or track the location of the student.

This  is an important step to stop this criminalizing of school children. For more information, visit: http://www.tagtexas.org/headline/action-alert-protect-texas-students-from-rfid-tracking-devices.html

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