Tag Archive: Alternatives to Incarceration

The Spread of Electronic Monitoring: No Quick Fix for Mass Incarceration

electronic

From Prison Legal News/ By James Kilgore

In a troubled criminal justice system desperately looking for alternatives to incarceration, electronic monitoring is trending. North Carolina has tripled the use of electronic monitors since 2011. California has placed 7,500 people on GPS ankle bracelets as part of a realignment program aimed to reduce prison populations. SuperCom, an Israeli-based Smart ID and electronic monitor producer, announced in early July 2014 that they were jumping full force into the U.S. market, predicting this will be a $6 billion-a-year global industry by 2018.

The praise singers of electronic monitoring are also re-surfacing. In late June 2014, high-profile blogger Dylan Matthews posted a story on Vox Media, headlined “Prisons are terrible and there’s finally a way to get rid of them.” He enthusiastically argued that the most “promising” alternative “fits on an ankle.” Joshua Earnest, press secretary for the Obama White House, even suggested ankle bracelets as a solution to getting the 52,000 unaccompanied immigrant children out of border detention centers and military bases in the U.S. Southwest.

The reasons behind this popular surge of electronic monitoring are obvious: Prisons and jails (along with immigrant detention facilities) are overflowing from decades of mass incarceration. State, local and even federal authorities are looking for budget-cutting quick fixes. In the era of the smart phone, smart watch and smart textiles, nothing reads solution like technology. (more…)

Alternatives to Incarceration: Be Careful What You Wish For

susanseredFrom Susan Sered

As awareness is growing of the financial and human costs associated with mass incarceration, we’re hearing talk from politicians on both sides of the aisle (and, believe it or not, even from the Koch Brothers) about the need for “alternatives to incarceration” (ATIs).

The term “alternatives to incarceration” takes for granted that we are talking about ways to handle criminals who otherwise would need to be incarcerated — that incarceration is a reasonable baseline against which to measure “alternatives.” In light of the over-representation of Americans of color and low-income Americans in jails and prisons, however, it’s necessary to be careful about any sort of presumption of correlation between criminality and incarceration. In fact, about a third of people locked up in the US are awaiting trial; that is, they have not been convicted of a crime. Another third are locked up because they violated the terms of probation or parole; that is; the “criminal” act was not sufficiently egregious to require imprisonment but a subsequent action – often simply not showing up for a meeting with a parole or probation officer, or failing to keep up restitution payments or money owed in court fees – was the reason for incarceration. And 97% of federal and state criminal prosecutions are resolved by plea bargain – often accepted by defendants out of fear that if they don’t accept the deal they will be locked up even longer — rather than by trial.

Given these numbers, it’s easier to make a case for abolition than for “alternatives to incarceration.” But that is not the direction in which public discourse seems to be moving. To the contrary, the increasingly popular sentiment goes something like this: A whole lot of people sitting in jails and prisons are mentally ill; they are drug users who need treatment more than they need punishment. Echoing this sentiment, Los Angeles County – the US county with the largest number of incarcerated people – recently approved a $1.9 billion proposal to tear down Men’s Central Jail and construct a 4,885-bed “Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility”. And while “treatment” certainly sounds beneficial, the content of that treatment has yet to be spelled out.

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