The Department of Community Corrections’ latest proposed solution to the Arkansas parole crisis involves the use of electronic bracelets for tracking parolees. The department has entered into a contract with 3M Electronic Monitoring for tracking services and bracelets. However, a little research reveals that these bracelets have had absolutely horrific consequences in other states.
Bilenda Harris-Ritter is a local Arkansas attorney and a former member of the California parole board. She warns of the catastrophic results the 3M program — the same program being implemented in Arkansas — wreaked on the Golden State:
Why they are using 3M Electronic when in March of this year California found the 3M devices so inaccurate and unreliable that the public was in “imminent danger”?
California breached state contract law to end the contract with 3M and replace the monitors with another brand. The case went to court and the judge found that, although the state contract law was violated, the 3M devices failed state standards.
It is the culture of this department from the Board of Corrections right on down to DCC to ignore public safety. It is dishonest to say to the press that “these electronic monitors are going to solve problems, so we do not need to build a prison.”
A report from the Los Angeles Times examines some of the problems Harris-Ritter mentioned. Problems with the bracelets included:
Batteries died early, cases cracked, reported locations were off by as much as three miles. Officials also found that tampering alerts failed and offenders were able to disappear by covering the devices with foil, deploying illegal GPS jammers or ducking into cars or buildings.
The full results were so bad, in fact, that a judge ordered that the information be sealed because it would “erode public trust” in electronic monitoring programs.
The LA Times conducted their own investigation and found that “thousands of child molesters, rapists and other high-risk parolees were removing or disarming their tracking devices — often with little risk of serving time for it because California’s jails are too full to hold them.”
The tracking devices were “dropped four feet onto concrete, wrapped in foil to block their signals and submerged as long as three hours in a swimming pool. Testers allowed batteries to run dead, cut ankle straps and traveled into areas beyond the reach of satellite and cellular phone signals.” According to testing done by the state, 3M’s devices failed 46 of 102 field-tested standards for the equipment — a rate of just 45%.
One agent who participated in the tests, Denise LeBard, said in a court statement that 3M’s ankle monitors were “inundated with defects.”
But California is not the only state that has seen horrific failings of their electronic monitoring system. The results in Colorado have led to multiple violent incidents as well. According to Harris-Ritter:
One sex-offender put his monitor around his dog’s collar and went out “consorting” with underage girls and collect[ed] firearms, drugs and ammunition, according to police.
Another left his motel the day they put the device on him. He is charged with raping two women and attempting to rape another.
And probably the worst: parolee Evan Ebel tore off his ankle bracelet in March and allegedly killed two people including the Colorado corrections chief Tom Clements.
You would think that would send a message to corrections directors in other states.
The Denver Post reported in June that in September 2012, an audit in Tennessee “found massive oversights in the state’s GPS offender tracking system. The audit found that more than 80% of the alerts from the GPS ‘were not cleared or confirmed’ by corrections officials.”
In New York, probation officials have been criticized for the case of a man who is accused of disabling his BI bracelet and killing a school librarian after raping a 10 year old girl. A federal report released in April found that 46 alerts from the monitor of the accused killer in New York were not investigated by probation officials when they should have been.
Part of the problem with these monitoring systems is that, not only are criminals being turned loose onto the streets, but the devices are obviously built with inherent flaws. No device can decipher intentional tampering from unintentional tampering. This was a key part of 3M’s argument in court. Also, like cell phones or other GPS devices, reception from the devices is spotty in certain geographic areas.
In July, the Associated Press reported that they queried corrections agencies across the U.S. “21 agencies that responded to the AP inquiry logged 256,408 alarms for 26,343 offenders in the month of April alone. The 230 parole officers with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice handled 944 alerts a day in April. The Delaware Department of Correction, which has 31 field officers, handled 514 alarms per day.” Obviously 31 officers cannot handle 514 alerts per day and, because many of those alerts are likely incidental, they’re not all followed up on.
Florida recently suspended its monitoring program after two people on the devices were accused in separate shootings. “I think the perception …is that these people are being watched 24 hours a day by someone in a command center. That’s just not happening,” said Rob Bains, director of court services for Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit Court.
Dina Tyler, spokeswoman for DCC, said the contract that the state recently signed will “nearly eliminate the department’s monitoring responsibilities. I think you will see a more liberal use of it,” she added. However, Parole Board chairman John Felts said the department has found “fewer than eight inmates” who actually fit the criteria to be released with an electronic bracelet. If fewer than eight are eligible, it’s hard to imagine how the use of these new bracelets will reduce prison overcrowding. And given the disastrous results of these programs in other states, this program is simply not worth the risk.
Harris-Ritter contends the new program will not reduce violence by parolees in Arkansas:
Clearly it will not have the impact the DCC spokesperson says it will because it has not any place else. No, it absolutely will not stop criminals from committing crimes here because it has not any place else.
There are serious problems with using monitors and our DCC appears to be totally oblivious to them. Once again, they are not considering public safety at all — just what it will cost the department. Crime victims and their families will pay the cost again and again until the culture of glorification of criminals as “clients; people who are not bad but just make bad decisions” is gone. With the people running DCC and the Board of Corrections, that is not going to be anytime soon.