Use of electronic monitoring growing locally and nationally
By Steve Lord firstname.lastname@example.org September 29, 2013 7:58PM
by the numbers
Estimated total offenders across America on electronic monitoring
Total of adult offenders currently on electronic monitoring
Total of juvenile offenders currently on electronic monitoring
Total of all offenders currently on electronic monitoring
Updated: November 1, 2013 6:17AM
What do George Zimmerman, Martha Stewart and Paris Hilton have in common with 13 Kendall County and 80 Kane County residents?
Those infamous celebrities spent time on electronic monitoring, just as those offenders in Kendall and Kane counties currently are doing — their comings and goings watched constantly by court authorities through radio frequencies or global positioning satellites.
Electronic monitoring has become more and more a tool of courts everywhere, usually used for offenders who do not need to be locked up but whom judges have said need more supervision than normal probation.
For the most part, electronic monitoring is cheaper than putting someone behind bars. It has been a slight relief to prison populations groaning from overcrowding, and to state and county jail budgets strapped for revenue.
Although it has been used in American courts since 1983, it recently has enjoyed more widespread use, particularly with global positioning satellite-based units, which are taking over from radio frequency technology.
Because of the number changes, it’s hard to say how many offenders are on electronic monitoring at any one time. But a national magazine in 2012 put the number at 200,000 nationwide, and growing.
“Each program operates differently, and the costs associated with each program vary depending on the technology used and the level of supervision ordered by the court,” said Matt Peterson, adult electronic monitoring unit supervisor for Kane County Court Services. “However, the offender is usually ordered to pay a daily fee to cover minimally the equipment costs of the program.”
Peterson said that while the fee usually does not cover the entire cost of monitoring, it helps defray that cost.
Costs changed several years ago with passage of what is known as the “Bischof Law,” named for the woman who was killed by her ex-husband who had violated an order of protection. The law mandated that electronic monitoring for those who had violated orders of protection had to be 24 hours every day.
Before the Bischof Law, Kane County had two shifts a day, seven days a week, for 14 shifts weekly. That became 21 shifts weekly after Bischof, meaning two more staff members to monitor, costing an additional $27,000 in overtime costs, Peterson said.
“Because of this statutory mandate, our department was forced to create a third shift of officers to monitor the electronic alerts from the ankle bracelets,” he said.
Kane’s program uses a variety of technology and supervises a total of 80 offenders at present.
Kendall County has a much smaller program than Kane’s and currently supervises 13 offenders, according to Tina Varney, court services director for Kendall. Between January and Aug. 23 of this year, Kendall supervised a total of 31 offenders.
Kendall has two probation officers monitoring 24 hours, with another officer and supervisor as backups.
Funding and staffing are not the only challenges in the monitoring programs. Varney said one of the problems they have is the limited number of units they are able to keep in the shelf, “a common problem with many jurisdictions.”
Typically, technology vendors limit the number of units an agency can have, so they do not have available stock sitting, unused. Varney said jurisdictions generally build into the contract a percentage of active units that can be sitting on the shelf.
“If your agency has a 10 percent stock and you have 10 active units, you can have one unit sitting on the shelf, ready for the next admission,” she said. “Shipping additional units is generally quick, but if you have orders for two clients to the technology program in one day, one offender cannot be hooked up until equipment is received.”
Court services programs have no control over the clients who are admitted to or released from the technology program.
“Should we experience an influx of admissions, we cannot just hire more staff,” Varney said. “Being a county department, there is a process of request and approval that one would need to complete.”