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The Voice of a Parole Officer Who “Keeps it real”

800px-Parole,_Inc._(1948)_posterAfter my experience of going to Europe and meeting with dozens of probation officers who think like social workers with a social conscience, it was refreshing to read  an interview with a NY parole agent who seemed to be able to actually talk honestly about the absurdity of parole conditions and the challenges faced by people trying to transition from prison to the community. In this wide ranging interview, he touched briefly on electronic monitoring. He said: “Show me one scientific document that links GPS to anything other than making money for GPS, Inc.” Amen. He also pointed out that the most absurd condition of parole, and one which is almost universal, is the regulation that blocks people from associating with other folks who have a criminal history or are on parole themselves.  These are the very people who can provide guidance and support to those trying to walk the righteous path. Yet, the infinite wisdom of this law categorizes everyone on parole or with a criminal background as another serious offense waiting to happen, rather than a human being trying to change.

Read the entire interview here: https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/01/22/i-spend-just-as-much-time-protecting-felons-from-society?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter&utm_source=opening-statement&utm_term=newsletter-20150122-97

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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.

EM in the Global Context: Bahamas EM Exec Oversteps His Boundaries

BAHAMAS 1 starThe use of electronic monitoring is becoming a transnational phenomenon, with places like Thailand, South Africa and the Bahamas joining the list of nations using this technology in criminal justice circles. However, a recent statement by the Executive Director of ICS, the company that runs the monitoring program in the Bahamas represents a bold move toward private sector entrepreneurs driving criminal justice policy.  Gari Gonzalez of ICS said that if people on monitoring commit crimes it is a result of their “exploiting the ability to roam free.” He called for the stepped up use of house arrest to remedy the situation suggesting that “the Courts should establish for each device-wearer a combination of inclusion zone, exclusion zone and curfew that must be strictly adhered to as a condition of receiving bail or probation. With this requirement, the person being electronically monitored would be confined to their home parameters and restricted from entering specified areas.” Gonzalez’s comments embody the stereotype of people on monitors, especially those with sex offense histories, as roaming predators constantly on the verge of committing new crimes. It is precisely the excessive use of house arrest and the extremely stringent conditions such as exclusion zones that often make an ankle bracelet amount to a regime of virtual incarceration.  The use of house arrest needs to be examined in the light of enabling the person on monitoring to successfully carry on with their life, not just inserted as the default position where those on the monitor have to beg for permission to go the store to buy a quart of milk.  Furthermore, when private sector vendors begin to get headlines for policy recommendations in which they have a material interest, state authorities need to step up and assert their position of authority rather than allow business concerns to dictate conditions of those on the monitor.  Certainly not all state authorities will be exemplary but outsourcing criminal justice policy decisions to private sector providers is a clear cut road to disaster.

For the whole story visit: http://www.tribune242.com/news/2014/mar/21/call-restrictions-those-ankle-monitors/

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:

Your ankle bracelet may be listening: shocking revelation about new eavesdropping technology in Puerto Rico

spy eyeballAuthorities in Puerto Rico have surreptitiously experimented with a new type of ankle bracelet-one that doubles as a listening device and can be switched on without the knowledge of the person wearing the bracelet. A barrage of legal authorities, including William Ramirez, Executive Director of the ACLU in Puerto Rico, expressed concern that this device was a violation of an individual’s rights.  Ben Wizner, head of the ACLU in Washington DC, shared Ramirez’ worries and said he had never heard of such a device.

This is an issue that has been raised many times in this blog: where is this technology going? As these devices become more sophisticated and we continue to have little regulation or standarization of electronic monitoring regimes, the possibilities for further infringement of individual liberties as well as tighter systems of control abound.

For the story on this “ankle bracelet that may be listening” visit:  http://www.thecrimereport.org/news/inside-criminal-justice/2013-10-caution-your-gps-ankle-bracelet-is-listening

Epic Legal Battle In Georgia Courts: Should Private Corporations Run Probation and Monitoring?

the sentinelsA critical legal battle is taking place in Richmond County, Georgia over the issue of private corrections corporations running probation and electronic monitoring programs in the criminal justice system. Sentinel Offender Services, which runs electronic monitoring and probation for people with misdemeanor convictions from 40 offices nationwide, is the defendant in multiple law suits. The firms has been accused of violating peoples probation in order to extend the length of supervision time and thereby collect extra monthly fees for services. In September, appellate court Judge Daniel Craig ruled that a private company should not be allowed to run electronic monitoring programs or do “tolling”- extending a person’s probation because of apparent violations of the conditions of supervision. Moreover, plaintiffs in several of the suits  alleged that sometimes people on probation were not informed of the violation but were kept on probation after their term expired without their knowledge.  However, allegedly the violation was entered into police files and if the individual was subsequently pulled over by police, even several years later, they would be billed for being on probation for the intervening period.

On October 24th, the Georgia Supreme Court overruled Judge Craig’s ruling and reinstated Sentinel’s powers to run probation programs as well as electronic monitoring. This case has major ramifications for the role of private corrections companies in post-release supervision. If private companies have a financial incentive to extend an individual’s probation or time on electronic monitoring, there is a clear cut conflict of interest if they also have the “tolling” powers.

At the moment it is unclear if lawyers for the plaintiffs will ask the court to reconsider. However, more than a dozen civil suits against Sentinel in Richmond and Columbia county remain in the courts.

For more info on this go to:  http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/crime-courts/2013-10-24/supreme-court-returns-powers-sentinel-offender-services  and for the decision by Judge Craig:  http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/crime-courts/2013-09-16/private-probation-company-dealt-costly-blows-judges-ruling

“a state of mind where Big Brother is constantly watching over you”

darrell cannon 2

DARRELL CANNON, WHO SPENT 24 YEARS IN PRISON FOR A CRIME HE DID NOT COMMIT, TALKS ABOUT ELECTRONIC MONITORING.

Tortured by Chicago Police detective Jon Burge into confessing to a crime he didn’t commit, Darrell Cannon spent 24 years in prison, nine of them in solitary confinement at Tamm supermax. When his charges were finally dropped after  years of launching appeals, authorities released Cannon on an electronic monitor, as if two decades wrongfully incarcerated were not enough punishment. I interviewed him this morning about his experience and views on monitoring and have posted the video here.

Labor Day: The Myth of Slave Labor Camps in U.S. Prisons

slavelabor2On this Labor Day weekend I am linking readers to a piece I wrote for Counterpunch entitled The Myth of Prison Slave Labor Camps in the U.S. 

Despite claims to the contrary, only a very small percentage of those in prison in the U.S. work under contract for transnational corporations. The vast majority are idle, given no consistent work, education, training or treatment.  This problem spills over onto regimes of parole where people receive little support in their quest for work and face broad-based discrimination against people with felony convictions- questions on job applications about criminal background, banning from many occupations (such as people who fight fires while in prison being banned from becoming fire fighters on the street) and simply confronting the stigma that most employers attach to people who have been incarcerated.

The electronic monitor is likely the worst condition of parole for seeking and maintaining employment.  Just wearing an ankle bracelet brings its own stigma, especially for jobs which require interaction with the public. But the tight regimes of house arrest often make it nearly impossible for those on an ankle bracelet to attend job interviews, to work overtime or flexible work schedules, to perform jobs like home cleaning services, door-to-door soliciting  or gardening where mobility is essential.

So on this Labor Day weekend, let us remember that the major labor problem with mass incarceration is not slave labor camps but the fact that millions of working class people have been marginalized from the workforce due to the deindustrialization of urban areas, the destruction of meaningful education and training institutions in our cities, compounded by aggressive, inappropriate, and racist police practices in their communities.  Instead of being channeled into meaningful,decent work, millions move along the school to prison pipeline into lives under the punitive control of the state. On Labor Day let us think about ways of keeping people out of prison, keeping them off of unnecessarily harsh regimes of parole (including electronic monitoring) and getting them back into the workforce in jobs that pay a living wage.  This makes much more sense than fighting for higher wages in prison slave labor camps that don’t exist.

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