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How Remote Location Monitoring Can Assist Probation and Parole Agencies

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In 1998 the Federal Corrections and Supervision Division and a workgroup of U.S

probation and pretrial services officers began exploring technologies that officers can use to remotely monitor the physical location of an offender. For example, home-based electronic monitoring (EM) is often used by officers to remotely monitor offenders who are restricted to their homes. A popular alternative technology uses a system that identifies offenders over the telephone with a voice verification technique.

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In some cases, the technology is applied as an additional strategy with other methods (e.g., bail/bond, drug testing) for ensuring lawful behavior and return to court

In other situations it is used in lieu of these more traditional approaches. A research study sponsored by the National Institute of Justice and conducted by Indiana University assessed the use of electronic supervision for pretrial defendants in Marion County (Indianapolis), Indiana. The defendants included in the study were those who otherwise would not have been released on their own recognizance or could not raise bail or secure a bondsman. Of those who did not qualify for release in these ways, fewer than 25 percent actually were released with electronic supervision. In some cases defendants were considered too great a risk to public safety or to flee before trial to be released. In other cases, defendants may not have had “suitable residence with telephone” that was required for participation in electronic supervision. The goal of this program was to ensure that defendants return to court for trial and also to relieve jail crowding. The most frequent charges made against defendants in the program were theft, DUI, forgery, burglary, habitual traffic offenses, disorderly conduct, and drug offenses.

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While the potential exists for improving long-term outcomes by implementing EM within an overall strategy of behavioral modification, one study that used risk and needs factors to statistically-match treated offenders with those not receiving treatment found that the efficacy of using EM supplemented by treatment depends on the offender’s risk level ([Stump, T., Danner, M., 2014]). In general, previous studies have found clear cost advantages to using GPS monitoring relative to more traditional approaches to supervision, but only one study performed a quantitative costbenefit analysis

Nevertheless, none of the evaluated systems were developed in accordance with standards, and system improvements are needed to reliably and accurately track clients indoors, underground (e.g., in subways), during poor weather conditions, and in urban canyons (including in “altitude” to reveal their locations in multi-story buildings). Multi-technology approaches will be necessary to address many of those issues, since GPS receivers require an unobstructed view of the sky to function properly (Sachwald, J., 2007). The accuracy of the derived position can be affected by several factors, such as the angular altitudes and spacing in the sky of the satellites and by timing errors that arise when the signal reflects off tall buildings or rugged terrain before reaching the receiver.

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In any event, GPS units are a great tool for probation and parole officers to help combat problematic behavior without having to arrest the offender. Yet it is only a tool and cannot be substituted for good investigative work. Just because an offender is outfitted with a GPS unit and appears to be following all the rules, doesn’t mean they are

Probation and parole officers cannot become complacent and think the GPS unit will do their job for them.

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H. I. Heaton, “Geospatial Monitoring of Community-Released Offenders: An Analytics Market Survey”, JHU/APL Report AOS-15-1437, Ver. 1.0, Laurel MD, January 2016

J. Bonta, S. Wallace-Capretta, and J. Rooney, “A Quasi-experimental Evaluation of an Intensive Rehabilitation Supervision Program”, Criminal Justice and Behavior 27, No. 3, pp. 312-329 (2000).

Sachwald, J., “Electronic Monitoring of Sex Offenders,” Presentation to the Council of State Governments, National Legislative Briefing on Sex Offender Management Policy, January 27, 2007.

Stump, T., Danner, M., and Coleman, K., Maryland Department of Public Safety and Corrections Services Meeting with JHU/APL (S. Kandaswamy, D. Mahaffey, and S. Taylor), July 24, 2014.

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