[Pnews] Electronic Monitors: How Companies Dream of Locking Us in Our Homes

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Apr 23 15:08:53 EDT 2018


  Electronic Monitors: How Companies Dream of Locking Us in Our Homes

James Kilgore - April 23, 2018

These are the corporations profiting from e-carceration.

Carceral conglomerates like BI and Securus are on the move. Their 
continued growth poses serious challenges for activists fighting against 
mass incarceration.

Despite the law-and-order offensive of President Donald Trump and 
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the momentum for decarceration and 
ending cash bail continues to grow. This is cause for optimism. However, 
decarceration may not ultimately mean freedom. In many cases, welcoming 
arms are waiting for those coming out of prison gates, ready to strap 
plastic GPS shackles around their ankles. The number of electronic 
monitoring (EM) devices in the United States has more than doubled 
<http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2016/09/use-of-electronic-offender-tracking-devices-expands-sharply> in 
the past decade. This means decarceration may presage a massive shift of 
the costs of incarceration onto families and communities, and the 
transformation of the nation’s correctional system from public control 
to private companies. Activist Rebecca Brown, the director of Reentry 
Solutions Group <http://reentrysolutionsgroup.org/> and a keen analyst 
of monitoring, told /In These Times/, “Rather than advancing a more 
equitable and effective criminal justice system, electronic monitoring’s 
enormous and unchecked capacities transform entire communities into 
open-air jails, intentionally depriving a whole class of people of 
liberty and privacy even as its efficacy, necessity and appropriateness 
go entirely unchallenged.” Welcome to the era of e-carceration, and 
carceral conglomerates.

Let’s track that little canary with a couple of examples. State 
authorities in Ohio are implementing Targeted Community Alternatives to 
Prison <http://www.drc.ohio.gov/tcap> (T-CAP) to reduce prison 
populations. But these people will not be “free.” T-Cap will force 
people with low-level felonies to do their time 
<https://www.journal-news.com/news/more-felony-offenders-will-staying-local-jails-butler-county-working-cover-the-costs/9idS1B418EJS9wTo75MvLM/> in 
county jails or be fitted with EM devices. In other states, the use of 
EM during parole is mushrooming. In New York, according to a Freedom of 
Information Act query, the number of electronically monitored people on 
parole has increased more than 2.5 times since 2010.

The law-and-order agenda of the Trump-Sessions regime also has EM 
spinoffs, with overflow populations from immigrant detention centers 
increasingly being placed on what Spanish-speakers refer to as the 
“grillete” (shackle 
A parallel process has occurred in juvenile justice where, according to 
a 2017 report 
<https://www.law.berkeley.edu/experiential/clinics/samuelson-law-technology-public-policy-clinic/resources-and-publications/privacyandsecurity/electronic-monitoring-youth-california-justice-system/> by UC 
Berkeley’s Samuelson Law Clinic and East Bay Community Law Center, “one 
of the most significant changes in the juvenile justice system in recent 
decades has been the proliferation of electronic monitoring of youth.”

Private sector companies are the main providers of EM devices and 
monitoring technology. Critics of mass-incarceration are familiar with 
the (often overblown 
threats of private prisons. If we trace the growth of EM back to the 
companies that sell, maintain and surveille those ankle shackles, we 
discover the growth of a new parallel correctional system that has been 
quietly building over the last decade. A recent report 
<https://static1.squarespace.com/static/58e127cb1b10e31ed45b20f4/t/5addd8e80e2e72202034584b/1524488430100/The+Prison+Industrial+Complex+-+Mapping+Private+Sector+Players+%28April+2018%29.pdf> by 
the Urban Justice Center and Corrections Accountability Project provides 
useful data to outline this process. While the scale of state operations 
in the prison industrial complex still dwarfs the profile of private 
operators, carceral conglomerates are reaching into new areas, 
delivering new products and “services.” These companies’ activities not 
only crowd out state entities at times, but also further insert 
profit-driven practices into a public-sector ethos already largely 
dominated by neoliberal values.

*Carceral Conglomerates*

BI Incorporated and Securus Technologies are the two largest providers 
of electronic monitoring devices in the United States. With long 
histories of unethical profiteering and abuse of criminalized 
populations, both have also been the targets of considerable protest 
<https://grassrootsleadership.org/releases/2015/04/over-100-private-prison-protestors-converge-geo-group-s-shareholder-meeting> and 

While pressure for reform has grown, there’s also been a sea change in 
the opportunities presented to these firms to raid and privatize the 
services of public corrections. With new friends on Capitol Hill and in 
the White House, firms like BI and Securus are pulling pieces out of the 
very heart of the public prison-industrial complex and reshaping them 
for private profit. And they’re making it sound like an exercise in 
humanism: carceral humanism 
that is.

*BI Incorporated*

Founded in 1978, Colorado-based BI Incorporated is likely the largest 
operator in the EM sector, controlling about 30 percent of the nation’s 
monitoring devices, according to the company. In 2011, BI was bought out 
by GEO Group, the world’s largest private prison operator. Under the 
banner <https://www.geogroup.com/who_we_are>, “We believe that every 
human being should be treated with dignity and that his or her basic 
human rights should be respected and preserved at all times,” the GEO 
Group’s largest division, GEO Corrections, runs 
<https://www.geogroup.com/GEOs_Continuum_of_Care>141 prisons, detention 
centers and “community reentry facilities” holding up to 96,000 people, 
including its international operations in the United Kingdom, Australia 
and South Africa. The GEO Group is also a prime mover in finding new 
ways to monetize corrections. In 2013 it secured 
<https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20130118005379/en/GEO-Group-Receives-Favorable-Private-Letter-Ruling> Real 
Estate Investment Trust (REIT) status, which grants companies the 
ability to write off taxes on income that comes from rentals, if 75 
percent or more of their revenue comes from rent. The GEO Group claims 
that payments from government entities to keep people behind bars 
constitute rental income and therefore are tax exempt.

Within the GEO Group, BI is housed in the Orwellian GEO Care division. 
Creating a sugary-sweet “caring” unit has also opened up new markets and 
product opportunities for the GEO Group beyond EM. The GEO Group 
promotes a “continuum of care 
<https://www.geogroup.com/GEOs_Continuum_of_Care>” through which it 
offers classes, treatment and workshops inside prisons, as well 
as transition houses, electronic monitoring and day-reporting centers 
for those who leave prison—a wraparound carceral service. This program 
received the annual “Innovation in Corrections Award of the American 
Correctional Association” in 2018 for its work at Graceville 
Correctional Facility in Florida. Another key component of the continuum 
is the GEO Group’s 2014 opening of a gender responsive prison for women 
in McFarland, California. The BI website offers a link to GEO Reentry 
services, which provide potential clients with workshops and courses 
wholesomely packaged as “evidence-based programming 

As a company, BI reflects the dual approach of the GEO Group overall: 
care and corrections operations. BI has monitoring contracts for tens of 
thousands of people with state departments of corrections in at least 
nine states, including Illinois, Wisconsin, New Mexico and Arkansas. It 
also has agreements to provide other “compliance technologies,” such as 
alcohol monitoring devices, voice verification systems and mobile 
personal surveillance applications. However, its largest revenue stream 
now comes from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). While the 
parent GEO Group has been busy building Immigrant Detention Centers in 
support of the Trump agenda, BI has been developing surveillance systems 
for immigrants. BI’s Intensive Supervision and Appearance Program (ISAP) 
includes various forms of community supervision for about 70,000 
immigrants. Though precise figures are not available, likely about half 
of those are on GPS monitors. ISAP contracts have brought at least $600 
million into BI coffers.

Organizationally positioning BI in the business of “caring” promotes the 
notion that electronic monitoring and house arrest are different from 
public mass incarceration, constituting softer, nicer approaches to 
criminal justice. In fact, many people who have been on electronic 
monitors agree with Johnny Page’s assessment. After more than 20 years 
in Illinois prisons, Page came home to an electronic monitor. The rules 
were so confining, he told /In These Times/, “It’s like being locked up 
but you’re paying your own bills. You get to feed yourself, you don’t 
have to fight for the telephone, you don’t have to fight for the shower, 
but you’re still in jail.”


Securus, likely the second-largest EM provider in the United States, 
represents a different model of corporate conglomerate. Formed in 2004 
by HIG Capital via a merger between T-Netix and Evercom, Securus’ core 
business has been prison and jail phone systems. By 2015, it was 
operating in 2,200 prisons and jails, profiting from 1.2 million people 
behind bars. Securus first entered the EM marketplace in 2013 by 
acquiring market giant Satellite Tracking of People (STOP). At the time, 
STOP held the largest single monitoring contract in the country, and it 
continues to profit from electronically monitoring morethan 6,000 people 
for the California Department of Corrections andRehabilitation. Securus 
still holds the California contract and provides EM services to ten 
other states including Tennessee, Maine and Oregon.

Securus has also been a leader in diversifying its involvement in the 
prison-industrial complex. In 2013, the company acquired jail management 
system specialist Archonix. Other acquisitions include the 2014 addition 
of JobView, producer of job search kiosks used inside prisons; the 2015 
purchase of JPay, an online prison portal for carceral financial 
transactions like depositing funds in phone and commissary accounts for 
incarcerated loved ones; the 2018 takeover of GovPay.net, a portal for 
online payment of courts fines and fees; and the 2016 purchase of 
Wireless Containment Solutions, creator of “Cell Defender”—a platform 
that blocks cellphone calls from inside prisons.

While the GEO Group functions more like a parallel Department of 
Corrections, Securus sits at the apex of a growing carceral network that 
uses technological innovation to monetize services that were either 
previously not provided in jails and prisons (video visitation and 
email) or were provided by the state (phones, fee collection and 
managing commissary finances). Securus subsidiaries also provide 
platforms for prison record keeping and other administrative functions.

At a financial level, the strategies of both these conglomerates have 
been strikingly successful. The GEO Group’s expansion has been dramatic, 
almost doubling revenue from 2010 ($1.2 billion) to 2017 ($2.2 billion). 
The source of its revenue shifted as the share of the GEO Care unit grew 
from 17 percent to 22 percent while that of GEO Corrections fell by 4 

 From 2014 to 2016, Securus’ revenue grew from $404 million to $583 
million, an increase of 44 percent, making the company itself an 
increasingly attractive acquisition. Over the course of six years, 
Securus changed hands 
<https://www.reuters.com/article/us-securus-tech-m-a-abrypartners/platinum-equity-nears-deal-to-buy-prison-phone-company-securus-sources-idUSKCN18C2FU> three 
times. In 2011, Castle Harlan bought the company for an estimated $440 
million, then sold it to to Abry Partners for $640 in 2013, which put it 
into the hands of Platinum Equity for $1.5 billion in 2017.

*E-carceration: The next challenge*

Carceral conglomerates like BI and Securus are on the move. Their 
continued growth poses serious challenges for activists fighting against 
mass incarceration.

If the pressure for decarceration is invisibly linked, as it is now, 
with the expansion of EM, one unfortunate result could be extensive 
“e-carceration”: the deprivation of liberty by means of privately-run 
technology rather than publicly maintained walls and bars. E-carceration 
shifts the site and costs of incarceration from state facilities to 
vulnerable communities of color which have already been decimated by 
mass imprisonment. EM with conditions of house arrest is the most common 
form of e-carceration in operation today, but the advance of the 
surveillance state and the rapid evolution of tracking technology open 
the door to a number of other equally worrying scenarios.

A person may be confined to a neighborhood, a block or a house via 
devices individually programmed for varying levels of control, depending 
on the “risk assessment” of that individual. This is already happening 
with exclusion zones programmed into the ankle monitors of some 
individuals with sex offense or gang histories. In New York City, some 
alleged gang members are currently put on a GPS monitor without house 
arrest. The device is programmed to keep them out of certain parts of 
the city at certain times of the day.

Privacy is also a central concern. GPS monitors, which make up 
<http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2016/09/use-of-electronic-offender-tracking-devices-expands-sharply> 70 
percent of devices currently in operation in the United States, store 
location tracking data. At present, the storage and disposal of that 
data are almost entirely unregulated in the United States. In Germany 
authorities are required to delete tracking data within in 
two months. In the United States, some electronic monitoring contracts 
with STOP call for keeping the data for a minimum of seven years. Given 
the recent revelations of leaks of data from Facebook, as well as the 
<https://theintercept.com/2015/11/11/securus-hack-prison-phone-company-exposes-thousands-of-calls-lawyers-and-clients/> of 
70 million records of Securus Technologies in 2015, any expansion of 
e-carceration without more rigorous usage guidelines and the 
implementation of transparent digital security systems raises a number 
of alarms.

In the field of re-entry, deeper involvement of firms like GEO Care into 
systems of community-based supervision will doubtless increase fees for 
electronic monitoring, as well as add more mandatory components that 
require payment. Many of these costs are already imposed on individuals 
under supervision, who pay for things like drug testing, compulsory 
anger management courses and general supervision fees. Not only do these 
regimes increase costs for the person, but the entrance of carceral 
conglomerates into the reentry field blocks community-based initiatives 
that are more 
<https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/96341/investing_justice_resources_to_address_community_needs.pdf> likely 
to be successful at a lower cost.

These developments have serious implications for movements fighting for 
decarceration. The conditions of individuals who are released need to be 
carefully watched. Decarceration that only lands individuals under 
restrictive and costly house arrest, for example, is an outcome to be 
avoided. Getting people out of prison and jails in ways that enhance the 
power and profit of companies like Securus and the GEO Group could be a 
step backwards in the long run.

Organizations across the country have staged heroic resistance to these 
companies in the past. Activists have prevented the GEO Group 
<https://dropgeo.wordpress.com/> from building new prisons by exposing 
the violence and abuse that has been rampant in its facilities. 
Similarly, incarcerated people and their loved ones joined a mass 
campaign <https://nationinside.org/campaign/prison-phone-justice/> in 
2015 and 2016 to curb the abusive rates and fees for prison phone calls 
that were charged by Securus. The next stage of this struggle will 
require a new form of vigilance about the increasing dangers of 
e-carceration and the profit-making strategies of carceral conglomerates 
like BI, the GEO Group and Securus working in tandem with increasingly 
corporatized departments of corrections.

    James Kilgore


James Kilgore is a formerly incarcerated activist and researcher based 
in Urbana, Illinois. He is the author of five books, including 
/Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People’s Guide to the Key Civil 
Rights Struggle of Our Time/. He is currently a Soros Justice Fellow 
whose work involves building a campaign, Challenging E-Carceration, 
which is focused on the issue of electronic monitoring. He can be 
reached at waazn1 at gmail.com or @waazn1. He would like to thank Terri 
Barnes and Emmett Sanders for their work on this article.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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