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Op-Ed: The mass incarceration quietly expands through ankle monitors

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In Los Angeles County, the number of people ordered to wear electronic ankle monitors as a condition of court release increased 5,250% in the past six years, according to a last report from the UCLA Criminal Justice Program. The number rose from just 24 people in 2015 to more than 1,200 in 2021. This type of prison surveillance is becoming the “new normal” in the US

It’s widely defended as “better than prison,” but being “better than prison” doesn’t make a criminal justice policy sound—much less humane or legal. As Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, has observed“Digital prisons are to mass incarceration what Jim Crow was to slavery.”

It’s misleading to even compare prison and ankle monitors as if those were the only two options. There is a third option: freedom. In 2015 and before, LA judges were unlikely to order electronic surveillance as a condition of pre-trial release. Judges either set bail, release people of their own accord, or order people to be held in jail pending trial.

Now judges appear to be forgoing electronic surveillance by default, perhaps for people who would otherwise be – or should be – free. Monitoring may be preferable for people who would otherwise be in prison. But for people who are being monitored instead of being released on their own, the monitoring reflects a dangerous expansion of the prison state.

this “E-Prison” includes a web of invasive rules and monitoring technologies, such as B. GPS-equipped ankle monitors that allow law enforcement agencies to tag, track, and analyze the precise locations of people who have not been convicted of any crime.

As criminal law researchers, we are concerned. The preliminary use of prison surveillance should never be considered “normal”. As James Kilgore and Emmett Sanders, researchers in this field, have explained, prison surveillance Inflicts unnecessary harm and hardship on persons found not guilty.

The difference between E prisons and real prisons is a matter of degree, not type. A last report by researchers at the George Washington University School of Law describes the myriad ways surveillance undermines autonomy, dignity, privacy, financial security and social relationships when they are most needed.

As in prison, people are losing their freedom on monitors. In LA, as elsewhere, people on monitors are banned from leaving their home without prior permission from authorities days in advance.

Like in prison people have on monitors little privacy and must abide by dozens of strict rules that govern every aspect of daily life. to fail Charge the monitorchange of work or Timetable without a permit or an unauthorized trip to the grocery store can land someone back in jail for a technical violation. It’s little wonder that in LA County, technical violations, rather than new felonies, accounted for more than 90% of terminations and re-incarcerations of individuals on electronic monitors.

Ankle surveillance also solidifies the racial and economic inequalities that bail reform sought to address. In 2021, 84% of people under pre-trial electronic surveillance in LA County were either Black or Latinx. And in most places, though not LA, people with ankle monitors are required to pre-trial pay for the device. These fees are in addition to other costs such as B. Electricity bills (to charge the monitor), cell phone bills (to communicate with the surveillance agency) and the costs of caring for and transporting family members, which are necessary as people with monitors often cannot walk at home.

Still, surveillance is a popular option among judges. Judges at LA County’s Lancaster Courthouse will choose electronic ankle monitoring over monitorless monitoring in more than 90% of cases between 2020 and 2021, according to the UCLA report. In 2020, the California Judiciary Council awarded LA County $17 million to start a new supervised release program, despite the lack of clear empirical evidence , including a comprehensive monitoring program.

However, there is some reason for optimism. After years of organize community, LA County’s Board of Supervisors recently approved a motion to develop an independent investigative agency within a new Department of Justice, Welfare, and Opportunity to take over the role played by the probation service in investigative services. This new agency has the ability and authority to end the county’s unnecessary reliance on electronic surveillance. We urge officials to focus on innovative solutions that rely on community-based support rather than punitive and harmful surveillance technology.

With the recent exponential growth in electronic surveillance and the move toward a new investigative agency, we hope LA is poised to become a beacon of investigative reform for the rest of the country.

Kate Weisburd is Associate Professor of Law at George Washington University School of Law. Alicia Virani directs the Criminal Justice Program at the UCLA School of Law.

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-03-15/electronic-monitoring-pretrial-bail-mass-incarceration Op-Ed: The mass incarceration quietly expands through ankle monitors

Caroline Bleakley

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