Enacted: Jan 1996
The American Probation and Parole Association, recognizing the important contributions technology provides to our daily functioning, supports the use of electronic monitoring (EM) for offenders to assist probation and parole officers in achieving their prescribed goal of community protection. In establishing a program the following are critical: the initiative must be consistent with laws and agency policy; agency needs must be paramount in identifying the offenders targeted, both adult and juvenile, for this type of intervention; scheduling for offenders must be flexible in order to achieve the objectives of individualized supervision plans; priority consideration should be given to program staff requests for the use of agency resources for enforcement purposes; and vendor selection should be largely based upon strictly defined performance standards.
Probation and parole officers are increasingly being targeted with technological developments designed to enhance their ability to achieve community protection. Drug and alcohol testing devices are commonly found in community correction agencies. Personal computers are listed by many administrators as high priority equipment in budget submissions. The use of cellular communication in field work is heralded as improving officer safety. Therefore, when considering initiatives for offender control, EM has a realistic role.
It is important to remember, however, that the use of technology with offenders is not a substitute for staff. It should be viewed as a tool to support and enhance the supervision process. EM has demonstrated its efficacy in verifying the daily routine of the offender. It is a system which can be used to confirm adherence to imposed restrictions in movement replacing costly hours of personal surveillance if such activity is necessary. Further advantages of EM include the opportunity to reduce recidivism via strict monitoring, offer rewards and sanctions for supervision strategies and help enforce employment or program mandates.
The flexibility in the use of electronic monitoring allows for its consideration as a viable option. Each jurisdiction can design its own program to meet local needs. One program goal may be to address jail overcrowding and EM could be used as part of a pretrial release initiative. Another may consider it for use as an interim sanction. A third could have a juvenile probationer population requiring this type of intervention. A fourth might develop it as a sentencing option for selected offenders in lieu of incarceration. A fifth jurisdiction may target more than one category for its use. Despite the flexibility in its use, caution should be exercised when recommending it for high-risk offenders or situations. For example, this initiative may not offer sufficient restriction on offenders who are volatile and have a history of violent acts. Also, individuals whose plan for restriction might adversely affect the victim should be considered for alternate strategies. In circumstances where electronic monitoring is ordered and concerns for the victim exist, the supervision plan should incorporate frequent contact with the victim.
Procedures for any EM program must require an evaluation of the living arrangements, which would include the attitude of other household members. It is essential all inhabitants fully understand how the system operates and what inconveniences may be incurred once it is installed. Based upon agency policies and procedures, if this degree of intrusion is unacceptable, electronic monitoring should not be a considered option. Other appropriate sentencing or agency sanctions or alternatives for supervision may then be considered.
Critical to any EM initiative is vendor selection. Vendor selection should target an appropriate blend of price, product features and service that addresses the anticipated agency programming needs. During the past few years smaller companies, offering a variety of monitoring services, have merged with larger suppliers. What has evolved are vendors who have a number of experienced staff and a client base of significance. For the consumer this is positive since vendor requirements can be made stringent. When selecting a vendor, standards can be established for the number of units in operation as well as the qualifications of sales and service staff. Care should also be taken to include turn-around time provisions on service calls and shipping cost arrangements in lease agreements or service contracts. System specifications should not fail to reflect these factors.
As part of the vendor selection process there is also the question of whether equipment should be leased or purchased. This is a decision which is dependent upon the consuming jurisdiction and its fiscal practices and policies. It is possible that equipment leasing could prove more costly over an extended period than outright purchase. Leasing, however, may provide protection with regard to the obtaining of equipment upgrades when they become available. In addition, with equipment purchases, there is a need to contract for repair services.
Most vendors offer a complete monitoring system which includes 24 hour, 7 day per week agency notification through telephone or pager should violations or equipment problems, which cannot be corrected at the base site, occur. This service could prove to be more economical than utilizing agency staff. The down side is that some degree of agency control could be lost in having cases followed by an entity other than the criminal justice agency directly responsible for the offender. While being cautious of "low pricing" or "unrealistic service commitments" is important, it is equally important to remember that competition in the EM field can reap benefits to the consumer.
Many jurisdictions impose a fee on the monitored offender. Fees tend to be set on a sliding fee scale. Care should be taken to prevent any discriminatory practice. Individuals unable to pay a fee for program participation should not be excluded from consideration. Further, programs should allow options in the event an eligible offender is unable to financially afford telephone service or cannot have a telephone in his or her living arrangement. The use of cellular telephones, although costly, is one method of resolving this problem. Fees might not offset the costs associated with electronic monitoring. However, it is an important contribution in demonstrating the cost effectiveness of this type of programming during this period of increased fiscal accountability. If fee collections are a concern to agencies considering the use of EM, those agencies should elicit information from vendors who are in the position to provide assistance in the design and implementation of fee collection programs.
Criminal corrections agencies, as part of their respective programming system, should view electronic monitoring as a viable supervision tool to support professional staff in offender control. Flexibility in attempting to meet the needs of individual jurisdictions makes this technology desirable. The available number of experienced vendors enhances its reliability and the competition existing among them tends to make costs decrease. Most important, however, is that technology is being developed and refined to meet specific community correction requirements. Our profession should take advantage of the opportunities offered.