GPS Ankle Bracelets: Is Out of Sight Out of Mind?

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Would you recognize a parolee walking down the street? Would you know to look for the tell-tale monitoring bracelet worn on the ankle? Most of us wouldn’t, and if we did think about it, most of us would not realize how few parolees are actually ordered to wear one. For some time now, law enforcement agencies have used GPS tracking to pinpoint the location of convicted offenders out on probation, including gang members, juveniles, and pedophiles.
How Many?
You would expect that with this advanced technology, every criminal coming out on probation or parole would be ordered to wear a monitoring device for at least a time; however, that is often not the case. In just one city in one state, Omaha, Nebraska, to be precise, there were 6,357 people on probation as of the beginning of November 2011; only one of those had been ordered to wear a monitoring device. Of the 812 juveniles on probation, 43 were being monitored. Interestingly, in the more densely populated Metro area, 31 of 434 parolees are tracked through GPS, still a relatively low 7%.
Who Decides?
With so few offenders being monitored, people find themselves asking, “Who decides who wears a GPS tracking bracelet?” or “How is it decided?” In reviewing the case of an applicant for probation, either the State Parole Board or the court system decides the risk level of the parolee; those considered high risk are often outfitted with an ankle bracelet for the duration of their probation. Others who have served their time or been released on good behavior are simply monitored under the traditional probation system of checking in with a parole officer at regular intervals.
Does It Work?
One parolee called his device his “scarlet letter” and admitted that he tries to keep it concealed under his socks, but he also admits that the device is both a deterrent to repeating a crime and an encouragement to do the right thing. Another deterrent to crime is the fact that the offender often has to pay his own monitoring fees, which can be as high as $10 a day. From the point of view of a parole officer, the system marks a great improvement in efficient monitoring; the officer no longer wastes time trying to locate a parolee.

Using a computer or smart phone, the officer can pinpoint an individual for random spot checks or locate him for more involved interviews. Alerts can help lead authorities to a suspect when a crime is committed, but they can sometimes help clear a suspect when data shows that he was in fact where he was supposed to be at the time of a crime.
Though we may not be able to pick them out in society, GPS tracking devices are out there helping law enforcement keep us safe and deterring potential criminals from committing further crimes.

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Hillary Mayfield

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