A law professor found that wearing an ankle monitor while on probation or parole is just as restrictive as incarceration in a report released late last month.
Kate Weisburd, associate professor of law and lead researcher on the study, said she was working with a team of 10 GW law students who collected contract files from 247 agencies that oversee those on bail, in probation and parole across the country to analyze the effects of ankle monitors on daily life. She said that after two years of research, her team found that ankle monitors limit privacy, personal autonomy, relationships, employment and financial security as much as incarceration.
“Having an ankle monitor is seen as a lot less restrictive and supportive than being in a jail cell, and while I think that makes intuitive sense, what this report does is that it debunks by sort of that assumption that it’s better than jail or jail, ”Weisburd said.
The study found that more than 51% of convicts wearing ankle monitors must stay home at all times, more than 41% must recharge their monitors several times a day and more than half must follow a daily schedule of activities like when they can leave. home for shopping or attending religious services. The report also found that agencies were charging porters fees for non-payment of ankle monitors, which could cost hundreds of dollars per month.
Weisburd said those on remand, on probation or on parole are under a form of “community supervision” from a criminal court judge who restricts their way of life even though they are not in jail.
Weisburd said her former job as a staff attorney at a California juvenile court had inspired her to create the report. Some of the young people on probation she worked with in California told her their ankle monitors beeping during their classes, embarrassing them and scaring them back to school, she said.
She said many people with ankle monitors are arrested a second time for failing to comply with monitoring policies such as requiring the monitor’s battery to be recharged before it dies. She said many of those people did not have stable housing or reliable access to electricity to recharge their monitors on time, leading some to be returned to custody.
“What I have seen is that young people are being arrested again and re-incarcerated on new criminal matters,” Weisburd said. “They weren’t arrested for breaking a criminal law. They are detained and sent to prison for technical violations of the surveillance rules.
She said she didn’t think electronic surveillance “will go away” overnight, but she hopes the report will indicate that the technology is a restrictive form of incarceration. She said the report delves into the “inner workings” of how electronic surveillance works, building on years of work activists and community organizations have done to show the harmful effects of ankle monitors.
“Our hope is that it pushes more, that it pushes the conversation further forward to recognize how restrictive surveillance is, and we hope it can be useful for advocates, policy makers, activists, researchers, to push more people to just be out without a monitor and not be in jail and not be on a monitor, ”she said.
Varun Bhadha, a recent law school graduate who worked with Weisburd as a research assistant, said he joined the team a year after the start of the project to help tackle racism and the classism of the prison system.
“We have to be really thoughtful as a society to move towards this alternative form of incarceration rather than just falling or backing into it,” Bhadha said.
In states like Illinois, blacks make up about 58% of those on parole with electronic monitoring technology, like ankle monitors that track them, while they make up only 15% of the population.
Bhadha said the research team used Excel to organize Freedom of Information Act files and requests to collect additional information from different jurisdictions using the ankle monitor.
He said activists and public defenders can use the report as an advocacy tool to help support the case for lenient laws.
“This research and others will continue to enable us to mainstream this point of view and to see and understand it better,” Bhadha said.
James Kilgore – the director of the Challenging E-Carceration Project at MediaJustice, a media organization that fights for racial and economic equity – said he spent a year on a monitor after serving a prison sentence in 2009 for the robbery bank and pleaded guilty to second degree murder. He could only leave the house between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. Monday through Friday while wearing his ankle monitor, he said.
“The first night I went to bed with the monitor I had this image of my parole officer lying across the bed under blankets looking at me and my partner,” Kilgore said. “I think that sort of sums up what it feels like when you have the constant gaze of the state watching you.”
He said the ankle monitor restricts users to tasks such as cleaning the house or maintaining the yard because it limits their range of motion. He said the rules governing those who wear ankle monitors include the requirement to obtain permission for marriage.
Kilgore said Weisburd’s report helps link the data to the personal stories of those who have undergone ankle surveillance, showing how electronic surveillance policies are just as “draconian” as prisons.
“I love this study because it’s so refreshing after everything I’ve read, and it’s very broad and the fact that a team of students helped do it is really impressive and shows how we can use the power and resources of universities to create things that will contribute to change, ”he said.