Electronic Monitoring Essay, Research Paper
Last year, state prison systems were operating between 14% and 25% over their reported capacity; the federal system 26% over the reported capacity. On average, the incarcerated population has grown 7.9% annually since 1985. The question is: what do we do with the increase overflow and what do we do with those awaiting trial when the jails are filled with a lot of non-violent criminal offenders? Tracking devices such as ankle bracelets and implants could let low risk offenders be put safely on the streets instead of in prisons or jails.
Types of Electronic Monitoring
Electronic monitoring equipment is usually classified in terms of its signaling characteristics. One type is a receiver which requires the offender to respond on cue when directed. This type of monitoring is referred to as a “passive” system. If the offender is wearing a wristlet, he/she must answer the phone and then slide a portion of the wristwatch-like device into a black box hooked to the telephone, that sends a signal to the computer confirming the offenders whereabouts and identity. A second type of monitoring is referred to as “active.” This is a continuous signaling device which consists of three parts. The first is a small transmitter which is strapped to the offender around the wrist or ankle. The second part is a receiver/dialer which receives the signal from the bracelet and dials to the main computer, and the main computer compares to the data to the offender?s schedule and reports on their activities. Another type of monitoring is video cameras, which use video screens connected with telephones. This allows the supervision personnel to actually see the offenders in their own residences. This system is usually used for low risk offenders, and those who were granted work release. Visual verification requires no transmitter to be attached to the offender. The person checks in with the supervisor with a more personal relationship because they are able to see each other. One more method of electronic monitoring is through breathalyzers. This is used for those offenders that are forbidden from drinking alcohol. The computer randomly calls for the offender to give a breath sample, and the data is transmitted to the central computer through the phone line. This method is usually used along with the visual verification method so that the supervisory person can see that the person giving the sample is in fact the offender.
Interests in electronic monitoring of prisoners goes back to at least 1966, when Ralph K. Schwitzgebel described a system in the Harvard Law Review. In 1968, a machine was built using multiple receivers to trace the wearer?s movements through a building. This method was too expensive, and was not followed up on. In 1979, the idea of a wrist bracelet was born when
Judge Jack Love of Albuquerque, New Mexico read a comic strip of “Spiderman” in which the villain attached a bracelet to his wrist to track Spiderman?s whereabouts. In 1983, a marketing representative named Michael Gross started a company based on this idea, and developed the electronic bracelet. The first bracelet was used in April of 1983, when Judge Love sentenced a thirty year old probation violator to home confinement, wearing a tracking device. At year end, 1994, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that 17,548 adults were under electronic probation monitoring, and 5681 were under electronic parole monitoring. Since that time, use of monitoring has “sky rocketed” as a means of saving valuable jail space. According to a February 1996 New Statesman and Society article, there are presently 67,000 units being used in the United States, and the number is growing rapidly.
The cost of incarcerating criminals is steadily rising. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, maximum security incarceration now requires an average of $25,000 per year for one inmate. The cost of local detention and jail units are also rising, and are now averaging over $18,000 per year for one inmate. Since these costs are so high, this forces the system to shorten prison terms and release defendants without bail. The electronic monitoring system is one way to release an offender without putting them directly out on the street. It has been found to save between $50 and $65 per day for each inmate.
Just like anything else, electronic monitoring does have failures and other drawbacks. Some people that oppose electronic monitoring say that one of the reasons for the device is so the offender can remain in the community, and it makes it a lot harder for the offender to get a job. This is because of the early curfews and the overall “image” that a person wearing a wrist bracelet has. Another argument against electronic monitoring is that because we know where the person is, doesn?t mean we know what they are doing. For example, a drug offender can still do or sell drugs when they are confined to their home. That is why we have to do things like random drug testing or checking up on them. Things like this also cost money, so we are probably not saving as much money as we had thought.
Electronic monitoring is mainly being used with major traffic offenders, drug offenders, burglars, and some minor sex offenders. Juvenile offenders and drunk drivers have been targeted as being the most appropriate candidates for electronic monitoring. Although critics of the program believe that these offenders are not suitable because juveniles often have difficulty abiding by the conditions of the curfew, and drunk drivers are more likely to be deterred by a short, mandatory prison sentence than by the “soft” option of home confinement.
As shown by the steady increase in the cost of incarceration versus lowering costs of electronic monitoring, the future looks promising. New technology is allowing the units to be cheaper, smaller, more powerful, and multifunctional. This also means that we don?t have to hire as many people to keep track of the offenders either. The “active” and “passive” units, which were described earlier, are considered to be “first generation” units, and are basically an ankle transporter, electronically linked to a telephone modem. According to a July 1993 Futurist magazine article, technology is now available to allow a law-enforcement officer to just drive by the offender?s house or workplace to make sure that they are there.
“Second generation” units are presently being tested, and are expected to be in use by the year 2000. These systems would allow tracking of an offender over a much wider range. Computer controlled radio receivers would instantly record every place the offender goes, not just when he or she is out of range of the unit. This would be the same type of unit that Ralph Schwitzgebel described, but with more technology. Each unit would have its own unique frequency code that would “blip” information every five to ten seconds, allowing officials to determine the offender?s approximate location on a regional city grid map. Experimentation is being done to adapt the transporters to use cellular telephone transmitters to be even more
accurate. Eventually, information could be entered into an offender?s computer file to set off an alarm if the offender approaches a certain location that is restricted or forbidden. The weak link in this situation is the wrist or ankle bracelet itself because they are not temper proof.
The “third generation” of electronic monitoring will likely be in place sometime in the next century. It may be possible to implant the monitor under the skin, which would reduce the attempts to tamper with them. Such systems could be used to control the offender?s behavior if it was combined with a drug that could be implanted under the skin. Now, there are systems like this that are presently in use. For example, Norplant (R) contraceptives and some insulin release systems. When unsuitable behavior is indicated, the microprocessor could trigger the release of a measured amount of the tranquilizer. Such microprocessors and implants may also allow the offender to be “shut-down” by sleep inducing chemicals. This could even allow high risk offenders to be released and be safe in society. Technology would have to be much more developed than it is now to make these methods work.
Right now, with the increase in population, crime, and cost of incarceration, the criminal justice system needs a cost effective and proven way to control offenders and electronic monitoring seems to be an obvious answer. Advances in technology in recent years have allowed monitoring to become more effective in both cost and operation. Federal, state, and local agencies are all getting into electronic monitoring, and that is making it a very competitive market. When given the statistics being generated by the monitoring systems, taxpayers are more likely to agree that the method is cost effective. However, there is still some fear of citizens because people that do not make it or follow the terms of their probation are still a threat to the community to be a repeat offender.
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