Monitoring the Use of Electronic Monitoring

One February night in 2009, our phone rang. It was two in the morning. My 95-year-old mother was on the line. She told me she was having chest pains, thought she was having a heart attack, and had already called 911. Since she lived less than a mile away, my immediate response should have been to rush to her side. Instead, I dialed the 1-800 number anyone on parole on an electronic monitoring device is required to call.

The operator picked up after 15 minutes and told me I needed the permission of my parole agent to leave the house. I knew he wouldn’t be available—it was 2:00 a.m., after all—so I faced a difficult choice: go to the hospital and risk getting sent back to prison, or follow the rules and risk my mother passing away without me, after I had already been absent from her life for the six and a half years I was in prison. Fortunately, I had a partner who could go quickly to the hospital. Fortunately, my mother survived.

The next morning, I phoned my parole agent and asked if I could move without permission should such a situation arise again in the future. “It’s a gray area,” he said.

A growing number of people are living in these gray areas. Use of electronic monitoring devices (EM), first introduced in the 1980s, more than doubled between 2005 and 2015, according to research by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The technology has become increasingly popular as the movement to reduce mass incarceration gains momentum. It is touted as a way of bringing down prison populations while still keeping people under the watchful eye of the state.

But electronic monitoring needs to be understood for what it really is: incarceration by another name. And it’s a form of incarceration which has largely arisen without scrutiny or regulation. As Johnny Page, who spent 90 days on the monitor following a 23-and-a-half-year term in an Illinois prison, puts it, “You don’t have to fight for the telephone, you don’t have to fight for the shower—but you’re still in jail.”

Reentry after incarceration is a difficult process. It is exponentially more difficult when you have to go through a formal permission process before making the most elemental moves. Topeka K. Sam, who was on the “ankle shackle” following a prison term in New York, recalls how EM prevented her from getting critical medical tests, like MRIs and scans.

Meanwhile, Father David Kelly, director of the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation on Chicago’s South Side, reports that the restrictions on movement are so onerous that a majority of youth in his highly acclaimed program for helping heal young men and families touched by violence wind up back in detention—not because of any new offenses, but just for violating the EM rules. He even cites cases of youth being put on EM house arrest when they literally don’t have a house.

The surge in the use of these shackles also raises troubling questions about the surveillance state. How secure is the data these devices gather about our neighbors’ comings and goings? Who sees the information, and what are the limits on its use, if any? How long can it be preserved? Where is it stored? And who profits from this system?

It is time, at long last, to try to shine some light on these “gray areas.” I have been working for the past year to help develop guidelines to try to address some of these issues—and safeguard the rights of those on the monitor. I am in good company, working with dozens of advocates and individuals who have lived under EM who are part of a wider effort, the Challenging E-Carceration campaign.

The guidelines have the support of some of the leading criminal justice organizations in the country, including the ACLU, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, JustLeadershipUSA, the Prison Policy Initiative, and the Pretrial Justice Institute.

We hope to frame the problems those who have lived under this unregulated technology clearly: “Monitoring programs almost universally lack any transparent regulatory framework that respects the human rights of those being monitored and their family or household members.” The guidelines seek to ensure “opportunity, rights, and dignity” by allowing individuals on the monitor to meet “basic daily needs,” from shopping and caregiving to attending religious services.

The guidelines also call for the elimination of the fees charged to those wearing the shackle, which can reach $35 a day and worsen the economic challenges of reentry following incarceration. They further seek to ensure that monitors are not disproportionately used on people of color. And, mindful of the fact that 70 percent of monitors now in use feature GPS capability, they call for regulations to limit who has access to the data, restrict the types of data collected, and set explicit timetables for deleting the data altogether. 

This effort does not pretend to fix all the problems associated with electronic monitoring. But as Malikia Cyril, the executive director of the Center for Media Justice and a sponsor of the guidelines, put it, we must acknowledge that EM leads to “less overhead, with more people under the control of courts and community corrections.” The advocates working on these guidelines hope to increase awareness of the costs—financial and human—of this favorite of the surveillance state, and to encourage policymakers to adopt regulations which are safe, effective, and fair.

One day soon, I hope, these gray areas will yield to the light.

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19 Comments

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I agree that this country is over incarcerated by at least one order of magnitude.

What are the adverse effects of being exposed to prolong radiation? Furthermore even a dog or a cat typically have there collar removed and rotated. The permanent scars from individuals wearing Em for years clearly constitutes unusual and cruel punishment!!

It sure is an inhumane use of power over human beings trying to move forward in life

Will never wear one of these, I would take myself out before it would ever happen!

My hubby was on EM from The Lexington federal office for 6 months. He had prostate cancer and the Dr. had scheduled surgery. His P.O. was very aware of the situation. We did not think any thing of it until the pre-op nurse told us he could not go into the operating room with this devise on his ankle. They brought me a scissor and I cut it off. Wouldn’t you have thought the PO would have done that on the previous day at the home visit? What is the matter with this picture?

I was forced to wear a monitor for 3 plus years. It's very difficult to get around. Hoping that I didn't forget to bring the charger with me incase I wanted to stay out late . Just the added burden it created. Anything I can do to help, please let me know. ..thanks,

I was put on the "Shackle" by my Probation Officer because she didn't like that my Judge allowed me to "Go and Come" as I needed because I owned a Wrecker Service. And while on the "Shackle", I was CONSTANTLY getting phone calls asking where I was !! I lived in Central Florida at the time, But the "Shackle" had me as being all over the COUNTRY !! At least once a week I was asked if I was in Tennessee, Or Idaho, Or Georgia, New Mexico or most any other state besides FLORIDA !!. And the "Shackle" constantly went off telling me to "Go Outside" !¡!! Because it lost Connection to the GPS !!. And if I was asleep and didn't hear it, The next Day my Probation Officer was on my case !!!!!!!!. Thank God I had a little money saved up, And I was in Court almost monthly fighting the "Shackle" !! The judge would remove it, And a week later my Probation Officer would put it back on !! After a YEAR of Court hearings, The Judge made my P.O. stop putting it on me. I spent 4 years on Probation for something I had no control over. And I spent almost $100 GRAND fighting to keep myself out of prison !! The "Shackle" is just a ploy to set things up for the person to FAIL and end up in Prison anyway !! Only with another charge !!. The USA loves putting people in Prison !! History has proven that a Zillion times !!.

I endured this horror for months waiting for trial and following my conviction awaiting assignment to an actual prison. I had a life-threatneing condition at the time necessitating an operation that required the EM to come off. When I awoke from the operation in intensive care, my PO was there to reattach it. Barbaric and embarrassing to say the least.

I like to be part of the movement.

I am an advocate with the National Incarceration Association.There is also the real problem of these devices malfunctioning & sending false reports that the wearer has tampered with the device. This can cause hassles for the person being monitored because their supervising agency freaks out when they get a notification.
Lincoln freed the slaves but the criminal justice system has the legal right to use a variation of one of the very things that made slavery so horrible. We need to work on how to change this so that people returning from incarceration aren't continuing a program that is less about public safety & more about control.

Find out who is getting big $ from the companies that make these things and you will find the source of the problem. This is part of the swamp mentality. Time to bring back constitutional rights to ALL People

The whole GPS, registration and inhumanity is part of American history, which we haven't learned from to become better people.

It is better than being locked up. And, if you don't like it, then don't commit crimes.

Thanks for comments.

G.P.S. does NOTHING to prevent recidivism if a person has their mind made up to do it again. Michael Rhodes, a registered offender living in Atoka, Tipton County, TN was on parole from another state after serving some time for molesting little boys. He had to wear the shackle, but he still was able to re-offend. He simply lured the little boys onto his property and into his house and molested them. The one fact that should prove G.P.S. is useless is that it can only indicate where you are; not who the offender's with or what he or she is doing.

I agree there are too many people sent to prison. that said, parole doesn't mean you did your time. You are still a criminal, being punished, until your sentence is completed. Then, after that, you don't need to report in. Parole is part of serving your sentence and an alternative to being locked up. Whatever this guy did to be behind bars for six and a half years, the government decided he's not done being punished for yet. He wouldn't be able to come to his mother's house if he was in prison, because he is a criminal. He's restricted in what he can do on parole, because he's a criminal.

You are exactly right. To all the whiny babies, how about NOT breaking the law in the first place?? If you are a law-abiding citizen, you have nothing to worry about. If you choose to be a criminal, then you have to pay the consequences. It wasn't the ankle bracelet that kept you from your mother. It was your own stupid choices.

Mass incarceration is fueled by state corruption and third party profiteering. I am a victim of the state and women's retaliation causing me to be falsely convicted through a bait and trap scheme. The state manipulated me repeatedly, falsely penalized me with a forced or coerced guilty plea with the use of state trickery to achieve their results, also by violating the most important and fundamental of my rights to a proper defense that should have protected me from false claims, charges, arrest, incarceration, penalty, more penalties, loss of trust, loss of property $3500 plus $18500 legal expenses and a ruined identity. Failed duty to protect me from dishonest claims is the exact injustice which has made me into a life long activist against state crimes and third party schemers in profit. Join me in regulating state crimes.

My experience with home detention and electronic monitoring is terrifying. I am a divorced, white, woman who is now on disability after a wonderful career. I am educated but stupid. In 6/2017 I was arrested for a DUI, and plead guilty 11/2017. I was guilty, and expected to be punished accordingly. The experience has been and still is shameful for me. Especially having worked so hard the previous 20 years to achieve and maintain continuous sobriety. I had major surgery 2008 and subsequent surgeries where I was introduced me to the world of narcotics. It was a hellish 2 year battle to finally get off of the pain meds. Unfortunately I relapsed on alcohol in that duration. This resulted in more hell and I became a repeat DUI offender. Immediately after my last arrest I entered rehab. I was grateful for the opportunity to go, after completing the program I entered “after care”, and became active in AA. I’ve maintained my sobriety to this day. My initial motive for getting sober was replaced by the desire to live the sober life I had lost. Does this mean I am supposed

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