Electronic Monitoring Is an Extension of Mass Incarceration

Craig Caudill had a plan for life after his release from prison. While incarcerated, he completed a commercial driver’s license truck driving program in Huntsville, Texas. He was even entrusted to drive trucks for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) prison system after completing the program, transporting cotton across the state. Working as a truck driver seemed like a solid option after his release in 2021. He knew there was a demand for truck drivers and that the work paid well.

But four days before his release date, Caudill found out that he would be confined to his home for 18 months while on parole, with few exceptions. He would be required to wear a GPS ankle monitor, which would track his location and movements down to the minute. Caudill said it felt like everything he’d been working toward was taken away. Finding a truck driving job would be impossible.

“Now I have to come up with something else, and I have to do it while stuck in my house without the ability to move around,” said Caudill. “It didn’t make any sense to me.”

While on electronic monitoring, Caudill was required to submit his proposed schedule to his parole officer for approval every two weeks. He was permitted to go grocery shopping for only one hour once per week. He could go to doctor’s appointments and job interviews, provided he submitted a request at least a week in advance and received approval.

“If a job calls you and says, ‘We’d like to see you tomorrow, come in and talk to us,’ you can’t,” he said.

The requirements were so restrictive that Caudill felt like he had less freedom than he did while incarcerated, when he was trusted to drive across Texas. He was in a constant state of anxiety, fearing that an unforeseen situation could trigger an alarm that would land him back in prison.

“If they give me one hour to go to the grocery store, and I get stuck in traffic and can’t move, it doesn’t matter,” said Caudill. If he arrived home a minute past the hour, his parole officer could be notified.

“It’s so destructive, psychologically,” he said.

The expansion of electronic monitoring

The number of people on electronic monitoring has increased exponentially in recent years. A new Vera report
estimates that, from 2005 to 2021, the number of people on electronic monitoring increased fivefold to more than 250,000. And, in 2022, nearly half a million people were on electronic monitoring—ten times the number of people on electronic monitoring in 2005.

“Unlike jail and prison data, there’s no federal effort to track even partial information on electronic monitoring,” said Jacob Kang-Brown, a senior research fellow at Vera and one of the report’s authors. “Many localities and states have no mechanism for reporting information out.”

People can be placed on electronic monitoring as a condition of pretrial release or post-conviction supervision, including during probation, parole, home confinement, or work release. And increasingly, people who are facing deportation are being placed on electronic monitoring by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The agency’s Intensive Supervision Appearance Program accounts for much of the dramatic expansion of electronic monitoring in recent years.

Physical, emotional, and financial harms

Often, the public agencies that administer electronic monitoring programs—which vary by jurisdiction and can include courts, pretrial services, probation departments, community corrections agencies, sheriff’s departments, jails, or detention centers—enter into contracts with private vendors that supply the equipment and notify agencies of violations. These private companies tout electronic monitoring as a low-cost, efficient, and reliable alternative to incarceration.

In reality, that’s hardly the case. Vera’s report shows that electronic monitoring is often costly for those subjected to it, who might be required to pay “user fees.” Companies may push electronic monitoring as a cost-saving measure, but those costs are often passed on to people on electronic monitoring—or their loved ones. People have paid hundreds of dollars per week—in some cases half their income or as much as rent—to electronic monitoring companies. Class action lawsuits have accused companies of extortion.

People supervised with ankle monitors also report pain and discomfort, including swelling, numbness, bruising, blistering, severe cramps, and sores, that can have long-term health impacts. In a 2021 survey, one in five people reported experiencing electric shocks from the devices.

Electronic monitoring isn’t efficient or reliable either. The devices often malfunction. Caudill would frequently get calls from the electronic monitoring company or TDCJ, even in the middle of the night, asking him where he was because they had received an alert that he had tampered with his device or wasn’t home.

“You’re in a constant state of fear,” said Caudill. He worried that a device malfunction would instigate a series of events that could land him back in prison.

According to an American Civil Liberties Union report, Caudill’s fears are substantiated, as “device malfunctions such as audio defects, faulty batteries, and/or inability to connect to Wi-Fi often lead to reincarceration.” A man in Michigan was sent to prison because his ankle monitor wouldn’t hold a charge.

Perhaps most significantly, electronic monitoring functions to “expand surveillance and control over people who would otherwise be free.” It imposes additional burdens and constraints on people under community supervision, and its use within a jurisdiction is rarely accompanied by a decrease in incarceration. Failing to pay user fees on time, forgetting to charge the device’s battery, or an equipment malfunction can all land someone behind bars.

Beyond monitoring via wearable monitors that, like Caudill’s, attach to ankles or wrists, there are also newer forms of supervision technology, such as cell phone apps with location tracking, facial recognition, and voice verification capabilities. The ease of surveillance through these apps has actually created more stringent conditions. For example, a court required one person to take random breathalyzer tests five times per day using an app with a companion Bluetooth breathalyzer device. Failure to submit within 30 minutes of an alert would constitute a positive alcohol screen. This requirement would be impossible to meet if an officer had to administer the tests in person, multiple times a day, at a physical location.

A more punitive system

Electronic monitoring is another form of incarceration. It is costly—emotionally, physically, and financially—for the people forced on it, and it extends and potentially deepens their entanglement with the criminal legal system. Something as minor as a dead battery, as common as a traffic jam, or as uncontrollable as a device malfunction can lead to jail.

The criminal legal system’s embrace of electronic monitoring expands its systems of surveillance and control, often to the benefit of private companies. The value of the North American market for electronic monitoring was projected to hit $1.2 billion in 2023.

Caudill said his parole officer was more lenient than most, and, eventually, he could go to the gym, take interviews on short notice, and land a job as a truck driver. But Caudill still had to wear the device, despite its needlessness at that point, for 18 months.

“I believe it’s really all about the money,” said Caudill.

Vera’s report argues that private companies should not run electronic monitoring programs because these vendors “are not subject to the same accountability measures as government entities.” That can, and often does, lead to exploitation and corruption. But, as Vera’s report shows, jurisdictions can reduce incarceration and electronic monitoring at the same time.

“People coming home from prison and jail need supports, not threatening restrictions,” said Kang-Brown. “Policymakers should not let private companies profit from unproven new technologies at the cost of people’s freedom.”

Source link

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Compare items
  • Total (0)
Shopping cart