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Voice of the Monitored

Keeping an eye on the monitors

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private corrections companies

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

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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.

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

People in Cali are cutting off their ankle bracelets and running free

A recent investigation by the LA Times reports that many of the 8,000 on electronic monitoring in California are simply removing their devices. The jails are too full to hold them and presumably parole officers are too busy to chase them down. Among other things, this shows that electronic monitoring needs to be a planned program not just a quick fix way to get people out on the streets.  Often part of the reason people cut off leg monitors is because it becomes almost impossible for them to get permission to move out of their house.  We need to know more about what is causing people to cut off their ankle bracelets rather than simply assuming they are doing so out of an urge for criminality. To read the story visit: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/03/thousands-of-paroled-ca-sex-offenders-felons-easily-disable-gps-monitors/

 

Welcome to Voice of the Monitored

Welcome to Voice of the Monitored, a website dedicated to waking people up to the realities of electronic monitoring in the US criminal justice system. Every day about 200,000 people face their day wearing an ankle bracelet. But with prison overcrowding and rising state budget deficits, those numbers will grow. Electronic monitoring is the wave of the future. It’s time for everyone to find out more about this-to make sure it doesn’t become a technological ball and chain. Here’s some links to begin to help you to know what’s up:

Link to the web page of Robert Gable, inventor of electronic monitoring who wanted it to be used as a way to send positive information, not increase surveillance and control. Read about how he feels betrayed by the way monitoring is used today:

http://rgable.wordpress.com/electronic-monitoring-of-criminal-offenders/

Is electronic monitoring an alternative to incarceration or a technological ball and chain?

http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/04/30/the-rise-of-electronic-monitoring-in-criminal-justice/

Is the rise of electronic monitoring the result of the failure of our prison system? Graeme Wood of The Atlantic magazine thinks so. Read his story here:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/09/prison-without-walls/308195/

Read the story of big money in electronic monitoring: the $372 million contract BI Incorporated, now owned by private prisons firm the GEO group, signed with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to supervise 27,000 immigrants awaiting court decisions.

http://www.sfbg.com/politics/2010/03/16/who-profits-ices-electronic-monitoring-anklets-0

Should high school students with records of truancy be put on electronic monitors? Some schools in Dallas think so. Read about it at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/12/education/12dallas.html

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