Posts Tagged ‘alternatives to incarceration’

Establishment of task force important step to improving Federal corrections system

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Update: The Chuck Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections issued a competitive grant announcement. Click here for the document.

Original post:

The Omnibus spending bill Congress passed last month included funding for a committee tasked with studying federal prisons and making recommendations on a variety of issues, including prison overcrowding and improving rehabilitation and reentry procedures. One million dollars was allocated to the bi-partisan Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, which will have nine members.

This investment in the improvement of our federal corrections system has been needed for a long time. As I wrote previously, “the United States simply can’t afford to keep warehousing criminals.” Hopefully, the establishment of this task force will be the first step toward a more effective corrections system, which more appropriately places each offender based on his or her criminal history and, psychological state, into an effective support structure and provides access to available resources.

The nation’s prisons are currently in an unsustainable situation for the long term. The system faces numerous issues including prison overcrowding, violence in prisons, prisoner rehabilitation and employment programs, and recidivism. By creating this task force, Congress has taken the necessary first steps to start a difficult conversation about the nation’s broken criminal justice system.

CA prison situation: more post-release services and supervision needed

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

A recent op-ed piece by Lois Davis in the Los Angeles Times addresses the need for the state of California to increase its focus on education and job training for inmates. I agree with Davis’ assessment that the best way for the state to reduce its prison population is to dedicate more resources to the preparation of inmates before they return to the community.

In addition to Ms. Davis’ recommendations, more services for parolees after they are released, including a GPS monitoring program, are advisable. Take a few minutes to read Ms. Davis’ perspective on this important issue.

Major Changes in Federal Sentencing Policies

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s speech to the American Bar Association last week called for “sweeping, systematic changes” to the U.S. justice system, which are long overdue and very much welcomed. He outlined his new Smart On Crime plan for the Justice Department.

In speaking of his reforms, Holder said, “We cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation.” In addition to the new Justice Department policies, Holder also pointed to bi-partisan supported legislation that would save the nation billions of dollars by taking a more strategic approach to incarceration. For example, $80 billion was spent on incarceration in the U.S. in 2010 and the U.S. continues to incarcerate the largest percentage of its population than any other country.

Holder also described the Justice Department’s proactive partnering with the U.S. Department of Education to address a “school-to-pipeline” system and zero-tolerance discipline policies. He said these policies should land a student at a police station facing charges for a minor offense.

The Smart on Crime plan also includes expanding the use of alternatives to incarceration, which I agree and support. As Holder explained, incarceration can be an effective tool with strategic use when coupled with other components to cultivate a successful justice system and a safe community.

Alternatives to incarceration have proven to be effective by numerous studies and implementations by state and local governments. While Holder’s plan does not necessarily include electronic monitoring in every jurisdiction just beginning the dialogue on a national level is a huge start in the change process. Hopefully, this start will trickle down to more jurisdictions and allow further alternatives and sentencing reform to take hold.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know I’ve addressed this topic before and shared the actions taken by individual states to improve their justice system by various means. So, it’s encouraging to see this emphasis on Justice Reinvestment is now taking hold at the federal level.

Establishing solid policy and procedures: first step to an effective monitoring program

Friday, June 28th, 2013

While public perception may be correctional agencies can provide needed offender supervision simply by putting GPS or RF monitoring devices on these individuals, but the reality is much more complex. Even the best devices are simply tools. Agencies use these tools in a strategic manner to help carry out its mission and achieve its goals, which include offender accountability and public safety.

In the next couple of posts, I’ll discuss two of the most important ingredients to help an agency to operate an efficient EM monitoring program: policy and procedures and training.

Like any other tool, a GPS or RF monitoring system must be used within the framework of well-designed policies and procedures to guide the daily use of it. Critical questions, such as how supervising agents are to respond to each type of event, needs to be addressed in detail long before the system is activated. As each agency is unique, each agency’s protocols will reflect its mission and goals, however, some general guidelines should be kept in mind.

Use best practices: No need to reinvent the wheel. Data exists to provide guidance on what types of procedures work most effectively. This data can be used to establish solid starting points for creating protocols. Agencies can share effective practices with each other and discuss how they worked through various events. APPA, NIJ, ICCA and ACA are good resources to consider. And if agencies are looking at best practices, evidence-based practices should be introduced wherever possible so data can guide the program as well.

One size doesn’t fit all: Each agency knows its own jurisdiction, population(s), mission and goals best. After using available data, reports and evidence-based practices to develop and/or updating basic policies and procedures, they need some level of customization to meet the agency’s needs. Gathering input and feedback from a broad collection of stakeholders is beneficial.

Keep it effective, but not cumbersome: An effective policy that is not burdensome to those who must follow it is a difficult but achievable goal. Agencies need to implement effective policies and procedures that include the use of and access to appropriate tools, such as RF or GPS monitoring devices, without being onerous to the agents carrying out the policies.

Once solid policies and detailed procedures are in place, training is the next step, which I’ll discuss in my next post.

CA Senate passes bill to increase penalty for tampering with GPS devices

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Recently the California Senate passed a bill to increase the penalty for sex offenders removing or disabling the GPS tracking device they are required to wear as part of their parole. The bill, introduced by Sen. Ted Lieu, has moved on to the State Assembly for its approval.

SB 57 establishes a tiered punishment system for parolees who tamper with their GPS device. A first offense under the proposed legislation results in 180 days in county jail, while a third offense may result in as much as three years in state prison.

On Lieu’s web site,  he cites the benefits of keeping sexual offenders on GPS monitoring. Most notably, he references a federal study that found monitoring reduces recidivism amongst sexual offenders by three times.

In light of the benefits, it’s prudent for the state of California to take steps to improve the effectiveness of its GPS monitoring program. California’s actions have the potential to maintain public safety and help the state continue minimizing the size of its prison population.

As a provider of GPS tracking devices, Satellite Tracking of People strives to make its equipment as difficult as possible to remove. However, the help enrollees remain safe in the event of an emergency situation, the device must be easily removed. Not allowing for this is irresponsible and potentially hazardous to the enrollee and others. But if the enrollee tampers with the device, STOP’s equipment immediately alerts authorities so appropriate steps can be taken to address the issue. This legislation further strengthens a successful program and will make enrollees think twice about unlawfully removing their tracking device.

Justice Reinvestment improve recidivism and reduce corrections costs

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

The ever-increasing prison costs and decreasing revenues have been forcing many states to consider more effective ways to manage corrections for several years. It’s a challenging task to balance budget concerns with public safety priorities. However, a recent report from the Justice Center highlights the effective attempts at Justice Reinvestment undertaken by several states.

The examples of justice reinvestment included in the report encompass numerous aspects of the states’ justice systems. While these examples don’t necessarily include GPS monitoring, it’s encouraging to see states make the corrections process more efficient.

The study highlights six factors of an effective judicial reinvestment initiative.

  1. Comprehensive Data Analysis: In one cited example, Kansas examined more than 1 million pieces of data in its attempt to improve its system.
  2. Get Many Constituencies Involved: Kentucky included numerous county officials in its decision making process because state-level decisions would greatly affect county level workers.
  3. Focus on Those Most Likely to Re-offend: With limited resources, states like Ohio and North Carolina chose to focus on those individuals who were the highest risk to re-offend and return to prison.
  4. Reinvest in High Performing Programs: Relying on improved research techniques, states have been able to focus time and funds on programs found to be the most effective.
  5. Strengthen Community Supervision: Often justice reinvestment leads to more individuals on parole and probation, which means the ability to effectively supervise individuals in the community needs to increase proportionately as well.
  6. Incentivize Performance: Some states are taking the approach to reward local entities who reduced prison costs and populations with the dollar savings the local entities achieved.

As justice reinvestment continues across the country, I’m confident the GPS monitoring services offered by STOP will merit consideration as part of the overall solutions states take to improve their corrections systems.

Michigan House approve GPS for pretrial defendants

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Michigan’s House of Representatives recently passed HB 4197 making it possible for the state to use GPS monitoring technology on a new group of defendants. The legislation passed in Lansing would allow judges to consider electronic monitoring for all individuals awaiting trial for an assault charge. Currently, the only option in such cases is keeping defendants in jail until their trial date. The state currently allows electronic monitoring for those awaiting trial for domestic violence charges.

This piece of legislation is ready for a third reading by the Senate and must be signed by the Governor before it can go into effect. In addition, Michigan’s leaders need to develop precise guidelines to determine who is eligible for GPS monitoring instead of incarceration. If the bill can overcome these obstacles, it will provide a useful tool that will benefit the state’s justice system.

If made available, GPS monitoring would make it possible for an individual awaiting trial to continue his/her life while waiting for his/her case to go to trial.  In some cases, this technology makes the difference between a defendant continue working and providing for the family and losing his/her job because he/she is held in jail.  The real-time supervision made possible by GPS monitoring helps maintain a high level of community safety while keeping the defendant accountable for his/her movements.

There are many aspects to successfully maintaining community safety.  Providing security while preserving the rights of all individuals is a challenging task. It is a task that requires agencies to use every possible tool.  GPS monitoring technology is an effective tool that can assist agencies with meeting many of their responsibilities, which includes public safety and offender accountability.

Evidence shows GPS monitoring technology is a reliable tool

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Previously in this space, I focused on the legislative changes which will bring more GPS monitoring to the state of Georgia. Those changes were documented as part of a study on national corrections reform completed in 2011 and 2012 by The Sentencing Project.

The discussion of increased GPS monitoring in Wisconsin has brought to light some questions about the reliability of GPS as a tool for monitoring offenders. I would like to address those questions.

Legislators in Madison are discussing a new budget which would provide funds for the electronic monitoring of all individuals under a restraining order due to incidents of domestic violence. Wisconsin currently uses GPS technology on some, but not all, domestic violence offenders. However, the new budget would greatly increase their reliance on it.

The GPS discussion in Wisconsin has included evidence the technology has failed. The ability of GPS to consistently deliver accurate information in a timely manner has been questioned. Further, false alerts from GPS monitoring equipment have been blamed for unnecessarily sending individuals back to jail, even though they had not done anything wrong.

It is difficult to hear about these shortcomings, as they undoubtedly put a community’s safety and numerous individuals’ rights at risk. Yet, there is still plenty of evidence to support the over-all effectiveness of GPS monitoring as a tool for law enforcement officials in various jurisdictions.

For example, a study completed in California in 2012 found GPS monitoring in that state led to a greater level of compliance from those under supervision. In addition, the study found less recidivism amongst individuals being monitored by GPS when compared to those being supervised in more traditional ways.

This study also pointed out several positives of GPS monitoring. First it gives flexibility by providing a viable alternative to incarceration. Further, the information provided to agencies by GPS technology is invaluable. This real-time data assists agents in controlling offenders under supervision. In addition, the GPS monitoring information is often admissible in court in the event an offender commits a crime.

Another study completed in Florida in 2010 found electronic monitoring meets the goals of the agencies using it in that state. This report indicated the risk of an offender failing was reduced by 31 percent when he was electronically monitored. This benefit was seen among offenders of all age groups.

GPS monitoring technology is currently getting some negative attention in Wisconsin. However, published reports show it is still an effective and reliable tool to use in the monitoring of offenders. As evidenced by many government agencies, the quality of the device is vital to the success of the program. Since STOP has the most proven one-piece device available, we are always ready to show agencies what a difference we provide.

Georgia changed sentencing options

Friday, April 5th, 2013

After reading the nationwide sentencing revisions documented in a recent here conducted by The Sentencing Project, I want to highlight the changes made in the state of Georgia last year.

In 2012, legislators sought to reduce recidivism and voted to allow Georgia courts to consider electronically monitored probation as a sanction. This sanction is an alternative to prison for eligible candidates. By allowing the use of GPS monitoring the state provides a useful option for supervising offenders in the communities.

The Sentencing Project study reports on criminal justice revisions taking place in many states over the last two years. While the reforms took on various forms, the goal for all of them was to reduce prison populations while maintaining public safety.

Among the reforms touched on in the study:

  • Reduced mandatory minimums – Several states revised the required penalties for certain offenses.
  • Parole and Probation revocation reforms – Several states expanded the use of earned time for eligible individuals.
  • Juvenile Life Without Parole – Three states authorized relief for some individuals sentenced to life without parole as juveniles.

Substantial research has shown long prison sentences do little to reduce crime and recidivism. So, any effort to reduce the length of sentences is a promising step.

Despite the benefits, a shortened time in prison or jail doesn’t mean releasing parolees and probationers into the community without appropriate supervision and access to needed resources. GPS and RF monitoring equipment and services provide supervising agencies and their staff members additional tools to effectively help their caseloads remain compliant with the terms of their supervision.

GPS technology is extremely effective when agencies respond appropriately

Monday, March 4th, 2013

A recent story published in the L.A. Times newspaper highlights the increase in the number of arrest warrants issued since October 2011 due to parolees removing their GPS monitoring device. The story states it’s easy for a parolee to cut off the device, but doing so triggers a notification to the supervising agent.

I feel the need to address this situation and provide more background on the straps used on GPS monitoring devices. I’ll start with our BLUtag device.

BLUtag

BLUtag and its strap

BLUtag, the most advanced, proven and reliable GPS monitoring device in the industry, is used throughout the state of California by many government agencies. It has monitored, tracked and reported the movements and violations of more sex offenders, gang members, high-profile offenders and repeat offenders than any other GPS device in the industry. Using this device allows these agencies to take immediate action when enrollees violate the terms of their supervision, including removing the device.

Supervising agents usually take immediate action when they receive a tamper notification. However, ambiguity in California laws regarding offender custody has impacted the ability of agencies to maintain the appropriate consequence for various types of violations.

No technology available today can prevent parolees, or any offender, from removing their monitoring device (GPS or RF) or committing other violations. The important functionality is for the device to immediately notify supervising agents to the violation so the required action can be taken.

BLUtag’s hypoallergenic, thermoplastic rubber strap securely keeps the device fastened around the enrollee’s ankle at all times. If an enrollee removes BLUtag, the device immediately reports the tamper event, so the assigned supervising agent can take the action required by the agency and the law.

Options

One manufacturer makes a strap for a GPS monitoring device marketed as “more secure,” which means it’s embedded with stainless steel cables or a strip of steel. Yes, the offender can’t remove the device with standard medical scissors, but neither can medical personnel for medical emergencies or law enforcement officers when booking offenders into jail for a violation.

Removing this device requires tools, which aren’t usually immediately available in emergency situations. If the offender experiences a medical emergency and loses a foot or part of the leg simply because medical personnel couldn’t quickly remove the monitoring device, the agency is at risk for a lawsuit.

Additionally, the “more secure” strap has been known to be removed where it inserts into the device or it breaks off at the same point. This certainly creates a question about its level of security. This type of strap doesn’t comply with the proposed National Institutes of Justice standards for Offender Tracking Systems.

Many solicitations specifically state the strap can’t be embedded with steel cables or straps. The industry (supervising agencies and vendors/manufacturers) recognizes the critical need for a strap that securely fastens the monitoring device around the offender’s ankle. But the strap can’t impair the ability of either medical or law enforcement personnel from removing it, especially in an emergency situation.

And I question whatever additional security it may provide. An offender can still remove the device with a steel-embedded strap – and it doesn’t matter to the offender if removing the device takes a few more seconds or a few more minutes. STOP has looked at adding a strap with embedded steel to our options, but ensuring that our device works as designed outweighs this option.

Current situation

The result of the situation described in the L.A. Times news story is appropriate consequences can’t be applied to the deserving offenders due to a lack of clear law. GPS is a tool, and an extremely effective one when properly utilized. The article has more to do with need to change the law in order to have proper consequences for parolees violating the terms of their supervision.

The government agencies using our device are successful with other options for handling the removal of a device and maintaining public safety as well.