Prison Reform Through Monitoring Devices

Monitoring Devices May Help Eleviate Hawaii Prisons Lowering Prison Costs and Overcrowding

Prison Reform Through Monitoring Devices

As of January 2016, approximately 300,000 people throughout the nation were being supervised electronically through ankle bracelets, yet only 87 of those people were in Hawaii.

There are two types of electronic monitoring: radio frequency (RF) and global positioning system (GPS) monitoring. With both of these, the user wears an ankle bracelet and has a monitoring unit in their home. The monitoring unit obtains a continual coded signal that is transmitted from the ankle bracelet device. The signal is transmitted to a monitoring center that is staffed 24 hours a day.

RF monitoring is generally used for curfew purposes and only for juveniles because the types of crimes involved make these offenders a lower risk to the community. The monitoring unit detects when the wearer enters or exits the home residence. The offender can leave home as long as they return home according to the time set by the court or parole officer.

With GPS monitoring, the monitoring unit obtains a continual coded signal that is transmitted from an ankle bracelet device. The monitoring unit can ascertain if an ankle bracelet is removed by the wearer or has in some way been tampered with, altered, or damaged. is able to track the participant’s location, speed of travel, and when they stop at a location for a length of time. Inclusion and exclusion zones can be set permanently or through a schedule. For instance, a participant may have their workplace set as an inclusion zone during work hours or an exclusion zone may be set at an address that is known for criminal activity so that the bracelet would send an alert if they come within range of that address.

Many monitoring units also have an accessory to test breath or blood and can measure the level of alcohol consumption of the wearer. The bracelet is able to sound an alarm if a certain level is detected, which comes in handy for offenders who commit DUI/DWI offenses that may be sentenced to house arrest.

Supporters of electronic home monitoring say, along with reducing prison overcrowding and costs, its use as an alternative to detention is relatively simple to impose. Studies have also shown that ankle bracelets can reduce crime, resulting in a 31 percent reduction in recidivism in Florida and 24 percent reduction in arrests in the District of Columbia.

Electronic monitoring can not only save money but create profit. The daily fee ranges from $5 to $25. Hawaii is the only state that does not charge a fee. In Mountlake Terrace, a suburb north of Seattle, the city uses a small electronic monitoring firm, which charges the town $5.75 per participant. However, the person placed on electronic monitoring actually pays the city $20 per day, resulting in a net revenue of “approximately $50,000 to $60,000” per year for the city, according to Mountlake Terrace county documents.

Skeptics say that these costs place a great financial burden on participants and their families. The costs include a daily rental charge for the equipment, installing and paying monthly service for a landline phone plan, installation fees for the monitoring unit, random urinalyses, breath analyses, and possible charges for damaged or unreturned items. An inability to pay many result in incarceration.

For juveniles, probation terms often stipulate that the youth needs to be supervised at home and provide up to a week’s notice if they want to deviate from the set schedule at all. Often times, the requirements are not feasible for a family where both parents need to work, advance planning is necessary, and household decisions are not in control of the juvenile but he or she is the one being reprimanded. Due to the constraints, juveniles being monitored can become depressed and want to act like criminals because they feel they are being watched like one anyway.

Indeed, since electronic monitoring results in more interaction with law enforcement, there is an increased chance for youth to be detained on probation violations or new charges related to electronic monitoring.

Juvenile defense attorney and clinical instructor Kate Weisburd points out, “Because electronic monitoring is often imposed as an alternative to pretrial detention or as a term of probation, and because it does not look like traditional ‘punishment,’ it typically falls outside the scope of traditional discourses about procedural or substantive due process … Monitoring is seen as rehabilitative, and thus is subject to almost no judicial oversight or scrutiny.”

Kat Brady, coordinator of the Community Alliance on Prisons, says, “I have a mixed feeling about it. I like the idea of getting people out of prison, because I think it’s an unhealthy and harmful environment, so it should be absolutely the last choice. But I worry about this sort of surveillance society.”

Brady says the electronic monitoring should only be part of the rehabilitation plan. For re-entry to be successful, other programs and services are needed for support.

Scholar James Kilgore, who spent a year on an ankle bracelet as a condition of his own parole, pleads for more research to be done. “Before placing hundreds of thousands of people on ankle bracelets as an ‘alternative’ to incarceration, we need a deeper understanding of this technology,” Kilgore wrote. “Little effort has been made to examine how a monitor affects the individual wearing the ankle bracelet, let alone their families and communities. The ‘rights of monitored’ and others directly impacted remain unstated and unexplored.”