No More Shackles: Why We Must End the Use of Electronic Monitors for People on Parole
Date:  10-03-2018

Electronic monitoring has increased tremendously, as has technical violations that send people back to prison
From the report by The Center for Media Justice:

As decarceration and ending cash bail rise to prominence on the criminal legal agenda, electronic monitoring (EM) has gained favor as an alleged alternative to incarceration. We reject this approach. We view EM as an alternative form of incarceration, an example of what we call “e-carceration”—the deprivation of liberty by technological means.

Hence, as part of the greater movement for transforming the criminal legal system, we call for the elimination of the use of monitoring for individuals on parole. When people have done their time, they should be cut loose, not made to jump through more hoops and be shackled with more devices, punitive rules and threats of reincarceration. This report explains why we advance this position.

Introduction

It is common knowledge that mass incarceration has led to a dramatic increase in the number of people locked up in prisons and jails. A less well-known fact is that mass incarceration has been accompanied by an equally enormous growth in the number of people under state supervision in the form of parole, probation or supervised release. From 1980 to 2015, the number of individuals on probation rose from 1.1 million to 4.3 million. The ranks of those on parole, the focus of this report, grew from 220,400 to 826,100.

Not only did the number of individuals on parole rise, but the conditions of supervision became much more stringent. Though regulations and practice vary from state to state, typical parole conditions now include regular drug testing, a ban on associating with individuals with a criminal record, and an extensive set of fees and fines. Two dozen conditions are the norm but some individuals in Wisconsin have reported more than 70 conditions on their parole regime. As Brian Fischer, former commissioner of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, put it, “Most of us could not live under the rules of parole because there are too many of them.” Moreover, the role of parole officers has shifted from providing support to policing behavior. This change led to a dramatic expansion of the number of individuals who “violated” a rule of their supervision and were then sent back to prison. In 1980 only 17% of those returned to prison had violated parole. By 1999, parole violations accounted for more than a third of prison admissions. In 2017, in Arkansas, 38% of the entire state prison population was locked up for parole violations.

Moreover, in many states more than half of these were “technical violations,” actions that did not involve criminal activity but often involved something as simple as missing a scheduled meeting with a parole officer or failing to report a change of address. A 2017 survey of 42 state prison systems found 61,250 people in prison for technical violations. To make matters worse, many conditions seemed purposeless or even destructive to a person wanting to succeed in the community after incarceration. For example, some individuals were banned from accessing the Internet or owning a computer, even if their offense did not involve technology. In Alabama, Pursuant to Code § 15-22-29, the Parole Board must include in conditions of parole that a person must “abandon evil associates and ways.” The regulation fails to define what qualifies as evil.

Continue reading the full report here.