Critical Reflections on a Flawed Alternative

by James Kilgore of the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center a member of the Media Action Grassroots Network


This report offers a critical assessment of electronic monitoring (EM) in the criminal justice system. The author, who spent a year on an ankle bracelet as a condition of his own parole, draws on his in-depth study of legislation, policies, contracts, and academic literature related to electronic monitoring. In addition, he interviewed people directly impacted by EM in four states. These included those who had been on the monitor, their family members, corrections officials, and the CEO of a monitoring company. The report rejects any simplistic rush to deploy electronic monitors as an alternative to incarceration.Instead, the document sets out critical conditions for EM to be a genuine alternative.

Key Takeaways

  • The use of electronic monitoring must be used instead of incarceration in prison or jail, not as an additional condition of parole, probation or pre-trial release.
  • Electronic monitoring must be implemented with an alternative mindset that rejects the punitive philosophy that has dominated criminal justice since the rise of mass incarceration.

Guiding Principles

  1. Electronic monitoring with house arrest must be seen as a form of incarceration.
  2. Electronic monitoring should not be added onto a term of parole or probation after a person has served their time.
  3. The net of who is placed on an electronic monitor must not be widened, especially not so as to capture people who have not been convicted of any crime.
  4. Regulations regarding both the access and archiving of data collected from GPS- based electronic monitors must be put in place.
  5. The treatment of people with sex offense histories or any other sub-category of criminal convictions should conform to the same standards of privacy and human rights accorded everyone else in the criminal justice system.
  6. Exclusion zones should only be used in rare instances and applied on a case by case basis.
  7. Lifetime GPS should be abolished. Whether it be incarceration or tracking via electronic monitor, no carceral status should be beyond review.
  8. Enhancing the surveillance power of electronic monitors should be opposed, particularly adding the capacity to monitor biometrics or brain activity, to audio or video record, or to administer pharmaceuticals remotely.
  9. Electronic monitors should not be technological mechanisms for reinforcing economic and racial disparity
  10. User fees for people on electronic monitors as a result of involvement in the criminal justice system should be banned.
  11. The rules for EM regimes should not be punitive. They should be transparent and informed by the rights of the person on the monitor and their loved ones.
  12. The companies that provide electronic monitoring services need to be strictly regulated by government authorities.
  13. Practitioners and providers of electronic monitoring in the US have established no best practice models which acknowledge the human rights of people on the monitor.
  14. The development of policy on electronic monitoring should include significant participation from those who have been on electronic monitors, their loved ones, and those officials who have been involved in the actual implementation of monitoring programs.