In the summer of 1976, three men committed a crime that rocked the California community of Chowchilla. Now, 36 years later, the youngest of the convicts is being released on parole to be monitored for life through the use of a GPS tracking device.
Richard Schoenfeld along with his older brother and a friend hijacked a school bus filled with 26 children and their bus driver who were returning from a summer swimming trip. The children ranged in age from 5 years old to 14 years old, boys and girls. The men ditched the bus and transported their victims by van to the Livermore rock quarry. Here they locked them in a moving van and buried them alive. The bus driver with the help of the older children was able to make a way of escape while the kidnappers slept. All made it to safety unharmed while the men were captured, tried, and convicted. Richard Schoenfeld was only 22 years old at the time.
All three suspects pleaded guilty to the kidnapping charges and were sentenced to life in jail. With good behavior and rehabilitation, all three came up for parole over the years but all were denied until last year when the Board of Parole Hearings granted Richard Schoenfeld a release date of 2021. He appealed the decision, seeking an earlier release time since he had in fact been found eligible for parole and not a threat to society. The California court system ruled in Schoenfeld’s favor and demanded his release, stating that the later release date was unfair. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation tried to take the case to the California Supreme Court, but the highest court refused to hear the case. Authorities had no choice but to release Schoenfeld.
Although Schoenfeld has been released, he is by no means free. The condition of his parole is 24-7 monitoring through the use of a GPS tracking unit strapped to his ankle. He is living at home with his mother under the constant surveillance of the police. He will maintain other typical stipulations of parole, but he will serve out his life sentence under virtual house arrest.
GPS monitoring of parolees has been around for some time now, but is it enough to allay the fears of those living in the communities of these former convicts? GPS tracking devices can certainly act as a deterrent to recidivism, and society recognizes its use for sex offenders, gang members, and perpetrators of domestic violence. The question remains on the efficacy of using GPS technology to monitor those sentenced for life.