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Voice of the Monitored

Keeping an eye on the monitors

Kleiman’s Master Plan to Use GPS to Build Prisons in the Community

Mark KleimanIn his posting “We Don’t Need to Keep Criminals in Prison to Punish Them,” Prof. Mark Kleiman has come up with what he thinks is the solution to what he would likely call over-incarceration: relocate people in their thousands, including people with violent criminal convictions, to government apartments in the community where they would be under 24 hour surveillance, have a GPS tracker to record their every move, only be allowed out for certain basic things, and have their conditions eased if they manage to find a job.  At first pass, this may seem to make sense. But the essence of the proposal is to relocate prison from the current institutions to the community without changing much else. We will be building another network of carceral institutions right in the community (and you know they won’t be in the posh, lily-white  suburbs).  Kleiman sweetens his version of mass incarceration by promising individuals gradual increases in their freedom if they find a job. Hmmm, has Prof. Kleiman climbed into the body of a person with a felony conviction recently and looked for a job? And if there are another few hundred thousand of such folks on the job market, how will that look?

But setting that aside for a moment, how is this going to save money? His proposal doesn’t say anything about closing down dozens of prisons and laying off thousands of guards. And if we are going to cut the prison population by say 20% with this proposal, where do we find the money to buy or rent nearly half a million apartments? (he says they have to be efficiencies-one person only. Solitary, in other words.)

Like all utopians still mired in the punishment paradigm, Kleiman cannot come to grips with the fact that ending mass incarceration means that people with felony convictions cannot be treated like dogs on a retractable leash. Full human rights for full human beings. Relocating prisons to low rent apartment complexes without rebuilding communities is another cheap quick fix that will just add a new chapter of misery to the ongoing saga of mass incarceration.

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Courts Consider Legality of Lifetime GPS Monitoring

Screen-Shot-2015-03-20-at-12.21.19-PM-640x484At least nine states impose lifetime GPS monitoring on people with some categories of sex offenses. The current court case of Torry Grady in North Carolina is examining the constitutionality of this practice? Is is a violation of Fourth Amendment privacy rights? Can it be imposed in a civil proceeding? In the case of Jones v. the United States, the court decided that it was an invasion of privacy to install a GPS tracker on a vehicle that was parked on private property. Does this have any relevance to tracking human beings? Ultimately, this current case in North Carolina raises the fundamental issue behind this blog: what rights and entitlement do people who are on  electronic monitoring because of involvement in the criminal justice system have? Also, is GPS monitoring a form of liberty deprivation or merely a condition like not being allowed to drink alcohol? Big questions as the use of GPS advances. Keep an eye on this case.

Swedish Firm Puts Chips Under Staff’s Skin

RFID-hand-550x412In Sweden (of all places) a firm called Epicenter is letting staff “volunteer” to have chips put under their skin. The promise is that with a wave of the hand, they will be able to open security door, access the photocopier and, in the future, pay at the cafeteria. The size of a grain of rice, these chips promise to get smaller and to end up with your Mastercard and lots of biometric data which can be tracked by all kinds of folks interested in your movements, your spending habits and all the rest of the details of your life. “Wait a minute Mr. Orwell, I think there’s a problem with your hand. Can you wave it under the scanner again, please?” We are moving ahead while moving the clock back 31 years. Oh yes, and what happens if your computer chip gets a virus?

For more details on Epicenter, read this BBC story: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-31042477

Marissa Alexander-3 years in jail and now an ankle bracelet? C’mon!!

Marissa Alexmarissa alexanderander walked out of jail today after three years of being locked up in a case that has provoked considerable outrage. Prosecuted for firing a shot at an abusive partner, she first received a twenty year sentence then won a new trial on appeal. But rather than risk further imprisonment, she opted for a plea deal which would allow her to walk free, albeit with a wrongful conviction. However, she is not quite free yet. She’s got two years to do on an electronic monitor.  They have promised that she can go to work, carry out her parenting duties, etc. I certainly hope they give her more space to move than they allow most people on a monitor.  Fortunately, her monitor has already attracted some media attention so maybe they will avoid draconian tactics with her. To read more about her case go here to read Maya Schenwar’s insightful piece at Truthout and here to check out Sadhbh Walshe’s article in the Guardian.

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

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.”

Wonderful Day at CEP Conference in Frankfurt

CEP logoI spent today in Frankfurt, Germany with over 200 people taking part in the Confederation of European Probation’s 9th Conference on electronic monitoring. The majority of the people in the room work with probation or are employed in some other fashion in what we would call the law enforcement side. But electronic monitoring, and for that matter law enforcement, are a little bit different in this group. First of all I was amazed to hear that the German government at the federal level has grave concerns about the human rights implications of electronic monitors. For example, they have only agreed to hold data captured via GPS for two months. That’s how concerned they are about abuse of the access to that data. Moreover, they don’t want police to be able to do something which seems simple to us in the U.S.- search the whereabouts of everyone in the city who is on electronic monitoring when a crime is committed to see if they are in the vicinity. To them this is a human rights witch hunt. They would demand probable cause, that is, evidence that person was in the vicinity of a crime, BEFORE, they would allow searching the location of all those who were on electronic monitoring. Without that, there is no probable cause, no search.  They take human rights, at least in this regard, quite seriously.

Judge Elizer: Can Judges Really Talk Like This?

Two other issues struck me today. First, Judge Silke Elizer made what was no doubt for her a fairly innocuous comment: “when I say probation officer, I mean social worker,”  speaking directly to two of her “social workers” in the audience. How long has it been since probation and parole officers were anything more than law enforcers. Have they ever been trained in counseling, in family reunification? We operate according to the punishment paradigm and social workers don’t fit in.

Dr. Lehner: A Penitentiary Man?

Then, Dr. Dominik Lehner, from the Council for Penological Cooperation, a man who has been involved in the intricacies of running penitentiaries all his life, emphasized how electronic monitoring needed regulation, that there were all kinds of threats to human rights liberty it could pose if the right guidelines were not in place. Goodness me. He could have been a prison warden but here he is going on about human rights and advocating for the EU ‘s recommendation on monitoring which is all about the rights of the monitored and making sure that people have support while on monitoring, are not just left hanging with no money, no job and an ankle bracelet. An extraordinary day-more tomorrow.

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.

Wisconsin Activists Target Parole Restrictions, GPS Monitoring

WISDOM MilwaukeeYesterday activists from WISDOM, a statewide social justice coalition which targets the criminal justice system, staged a protest about the severe restrictions for people on parole in the state, resulting in an enormous number of people being returned to prison for petty violations of their parole conditions. They also targeted false alarms and ultra-strict regulations in Wisconsin’s GPS monitoring program as one of the issues contributing to a high recidivism rate in the state. In addition to the challenges in the parole system, Wisconsin has the highest per capita incarceration rate of African Americans of any state. Read the story about the WISDOM action here.

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