[Pnews] Ankle Monitors Aren’t Humane. They’re Another Kind of Jail
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Aug 6 10:21:19 EDT 2018
James Kilgore <https://www.wired.com/author/james-kilgore> and Emmett
Sanders <https://www.wired.com/author/emmett-sanders> - August 4, 2018
Ankle Monitors Aren’t Humane. They’re Another Kind of Jail
Ankle monitors are trending these days: Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and
former Donald Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort
are under the electronic tether, and last month, in the wake of outrage
over immigration officials separating families at the border, US
Immigration and Customs Enforcement began monitoring migrant parents
electronically rather than keeping them incarcerated in detention
centers. More than 35,000 immigrants have been assigned an ankle monitor
They have plenty of company. According to research
by the Pew Charitable Trusts, law enforcement’s use of electronic
monitors more than doubled between 2005 and 2015. The technology
continues to gain popularity as pressure to reduce incarceration mounts.
To many, electronic monitoring is humane—one that allows people “on the
bracelet” to live at home and move about more freely than they would
But those who have lived under this high-tech tether—including the two
of us—see it differently. For many, electronic monitoring equals
incarceration by another name. It is a shackle, rather than a bracelet.
The rules for wearing a monitor are far more restrictive than most
people realize. Most devices today have GPS tracking, recording every
movement and potentially eroding rights in ways you can’t imagine.
Just ask James Morgan of Madison, Wisconsin, who spent several days
because the Department of Corrections reported his monitor lost its GPS
signal and reported false information about his location. Or Dustin
Tirado of Los Angeles, who told us about cutting his hand in a domestic
accident. The wound was bleeding profusely, so he headed for the
hospital, phoning his parole officer to let him know. When Tirado
arrived at the hospital, police were waiting. They took him into
custody, and he spent 10 days in prison before being released.
We have been researching electronic monitoring for several years. There
is no real proof that these devices make communities safer. Instead, the
monitors function as an additional punishment, extending a person’s
sentence when they’re placed on a monitor as part of parole. Or, they
severely curtail the freedoms of those who are given a device before
they've even been convicted. The money spent on this under-regulated and
misunderstood technology would be better used to provide jobs or housing.
Here are seven things you may not know about the ankle shackle:
*1. Paying for the Privilege*
People on the monitor not only must live with round-the-clock
surveillance; most also must pay for the privilege. Fees range from $5
to $25 a day, in some cases making a person’s monitor fees more than
their monthly rent. Missing a payment has serious consequences. In
Kentucky, if you are three days late, authorities can send you back to
*2. Can’t Touch This*
Some people report skin irritations from the devices. Yet many states
have made it a crime to “tamper” with or remove them; in Georgia, doing
so can earn you up to five years in prison.
*3. Shackled for Life*
A number of states have mandatory lifetime GPS for people found guilty
of certain sex crimes. In Michigan, those on lifetime GPS must shoulder
fees regardless of their ability to pay. The Eighth Amendment states,
“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor
cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Doesn't a daily fee for the
rest of a person’s life fall into the excessive category?
*4. Don’t Get Sick*
Some medical procedures, such as MRIs, mammograms, x-Rays, and CT scans,
cannot be done while a person has a monitor. Most states have no clear
policy for removing the device in case of emergency. California’s rules
require the person to “carry an activated … device to the medical
procedure” (e.g., into the operating room).
*5. Hidden Costs*
Many states still require a landline telephone (yes, a landline) for
their monitors, adding a cost many households have long since struck
from the budget. In Iowa, if you lose or damage the tracking component
of the device, you'll pay $795 to replace it; a missing power cord sets
you back $55.
*6. Can You Hear Me Now?*
A person’s monitor must maintain contact with authorities to avoid
violating the rules. However, losing signal is a common occurrence for
most people on EM. The easiest way to lose connection is a dead battery.
Most devices have batteries which need daily charging. While batteries
are supposed to hold a charge for the entire day, they often fail,
forcing individuals to either return home or plug them into a wall
outlet in a public place. The most difficult moments come during power
outages; Troy Hawkins, who spent time on a monitor in Wisconsin,
that he was taken to jail for five days when a power outage caused his
device to lose connection.
*7. Who Owns Your Data?*
About 70 percent
of all electronic monitoring devices have GPS capacity, (up from 2.5
percent in 2005). Where does all that tracking data go? Mostly, we don’t
know. The data typically belongs to a department of corrections or local
sheriff’s department, but several branches of law enforcement often have
In some cases, the contracted monitoring firm owns the data. In Germany,
GPS tracking data must be deleted
<http://journals.sagepub.com/eprint/kpuVBex3FqFAuF2yZkSm/full> after two
months, but that’s not the case in the US. In the US, at least two
companies, Attenti (formerly 3M) and Satellite Tracking of People, have
contracts <http://www.dc.state.fl.us/business/contracts/c2745.pdf> that
specify the data will be kept a minimum of seven years, often long after
the person is off the monitor.
Electronic monitors are punitive devices, not an alternative to
incarceration. Johnny Page, now a youth counselor in Chicago, was placed
on a shackle after 23 years in Illinois prisons. After that experience
of EM, he said
<https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=VoXtZqkVfcY>— and we agree:
“You don’t have to fight for the telephone, you don’t have to fight for
the shower, but you’re still in jail. It’s just another form of
Instead of spending money on technological punishment, political
decision-makers and law enforcement should use their resources to
provide support to those who are on parole, awaiting trial, involved in
the juvenile justice system, or caught up in the current repressive
machinations of ICE. We need genuine alternatives, not digital prisons.
James Kilgore (@waazn1 <https://twitter.com/waazn1>), the author of the
book /Understanding Mass Incarceration/ and a 2017 Soros Justice Fellow,
leads the Challenging E-Carceration Project. Emmett Sanders
(@EmmettSanders75 <https://twitter.com/EmmettSanders75>), a researcher
on the Challenging E-Carceration project, is co-author of the guide
"Mapping Your Future: A Guide to Successful Re-entry." They have both
been on electronic monitors.
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