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Voice of the Monitored

Keeping an eye on the monitors

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violation

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.

 

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Interview with Monica Jahner, Northwest Initiative, Lansing MI

monica jahner(click here to view Monica Jahner interview)   Monica Jahner spent nearly three decades in prison. Since she gained her freedom six years ago, she’s worked night and day at Northwest Initiative, a Lansing, Michigan- based program that provides reentry services for people on parole from state prison as well as individuals facing cases in the local courts. In the course of her work she’s encountered dozens of people on electronic monitoring regimes. She has an abundance of stories of the ways in which the monitor places unreasonable obstacles in front of people trying to do the right thing. Perhaps her most incredible example is the person on a monitor whose house burnt down, thereby cutting off the signal from his box to the reporting center. When he showed up the next day at the police station to report his change of address, the authorities took him off to jail because the rules of his electronic monitoring program didn’t permit him to be outside of his house at that time.
While not all her clients face such inappropriate responses, she emphasizes that the hurdles individuals confront to get employment or participate in family activities grind people down. “They have to jump through a million hoops,” she says recalling one individual who was called for a job interview on short notice on a Sunday. The supervisor for his monitoring program wasn’t available on Sundays. Since, as with most people on monitors, he wasn’t able to leave his house without permission, he had to make the difficult choice: break the rules and run the risk of being locked up or foregoing the all too rare opportunity for a person with a felony conviction to get a job interview. He ended up going to the job interview and luckily only got a tongue-lashing rather for breaking the rules. She recounts the story of another person on a monitor wanted to get a job cutting lawns. The monitoring requirements meant that he had to get clearance from his parole officer to visit every address where he would be cutting grass. That could mean 30 or 40 houses in a week, an almost insurmountable paperwork load for both the person on the monitor and the employer. Such requirements, along with the typical parole conditions that a person’s place of employment can be searched at any time without a warrant, make even the most sympathetic employers hesitant to deal with people on an ankle bracelet.
Most people on monitoring also have a curfew which stipulates they must be back in their house every day by 2 p.m. This makes it difficult to be involved in family or community activities. Monica questions the use of the curfew. “Are we making the streets any safer by saying you can’t go out with your family?” she asks, “Staying out until 8:30 shouldn’t be a problem.”
She attributes the excessive controls that often come with monitoring to a “fear mongering” which is fueled by popular “attitudes toward felons.” She notes that even some pastors have succumbed to this fear since a person’s monitor may sound an alarm in the middle of a church service, prompting nervous responses among the congregation.
This same fear has also spilled over into programs she runs. She once set up a lunch program for children but many people kept their kids away because people with felony convictions were serving meals. Monica said people in her reentry program were tired of hearing that “kids can’t come into our sight,” even when they don’t have any criminal history involving children.

She has even found that some people become so despondent under the restrictions of the monitor that they prefer to just give up and be returned to custody. Some people find it “easier sitting in a jail cell,” she says, especially when they “can’t keep a job because the thing is going off all day.” She told the story of one person with a sex offense history who spent thirty years behind bars. In a moment of despair he told her “it’s either gonna be suicide or I go back to prison. Nobody wants to give me the chance to change.” The authorities not only had him on a monitor with a strict curfew but he was not allowed to have a computer and was forced to get permission to even have a conversation with a neighbor. One day he said he stopped at a house on his street where the owner was holding a yard sale. He looked at a few items and had a short conversation with the owner. The next day his parole officer phoned him and asked him why, according to the GPS records, he had spent eight minutes at an unapproved address. When he explained the details, the parole officer pressed him to make sure that he had revealed to the neighbor that he was a person with sex offense on parole with electronic monitoring.
Monica stresses that all of these situations are made worse by the lack of consistency in policy. “Every parole officer has a different set of rules,” she says, bemoaning the absence of clear cut guidelines or any consideration of how conditions for various individuals may be very different.
Ultimately Monica thinks that electronic monitoring needs a re-think. She suggests it would help if the system was centralized with one set of rules. She also believes that conditions must fit different peoples’ needs, that a one-size-fits-all approach is not working. As it stands, she says, it is “virtually impossible for people on GPS to try to cope with society.”

She also argues that the problems with electronic monitoring constitute a subset of a bigger issue with reentry in general. She highlights the lack of understanding of the realities of returning citizens on the part of many involved in reentry and supports the idea of programs run by people who have been through the prison system. As she puts it “people who have walked the walk, who understand.” Likely if people like Monica had more influence over the rules and regulations concerning electronic monitoring and parole in general, far fewer people would end up going back to prison.

 

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.

“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.

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.

Wisconsin Lawmakers Examine Electronic Monitoring

In responsGPS-JamesMorgan-prayerhands2-1024x670e to Mario Koran’s article exposing incidents where people on electronic monitoring were incarcerated or disciplined because their device falsely reported them out of their house, Wisconsin lawmakers are taking a hard look at the service and questioning whether they want to expand it to include people with a history of domestic violence. One of the victims of these technological errors,  James Morgan, is shown in the photo above.  Koran’s article has a video of an interview with Morgan.

While looking at technical malfunctions is useful, this is the tip of the iceberg of problems with electronic monitoring that require scrutiny.  Before the use of monitoring expands astronomically (as the private providers would like it to do) we need to look at the rules and regulations that apply to people on monitoring in general.  While most of the current media focus goes toward those who may commit crimes by cutting off their ankle bracelets, this is a tiny minority of those on monitoring. The vast majority face a different set of issues-difficulties in getting movement to go to work, to participate in family activities, to enroll in education programs.  The primary need is to make sure electronic monitoring regimes provide enough freedom for people to successfully face the challenge to get their life back on track and keep it going.  This is impossible if the rules and regulations of electronic monitoring focus totally on control and punishment rather than prioritizing promoting life successes for people re-entering from prison and jail.  Lawmakers must ensure that electronic monitoring is part of rehabilitation, not just a cheap and at times inefficient form of technological punishment.

 

 

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