Electronic Monitoring

Electronic monitoring is a way of monitoring and detainingoffendersoutside of prison. Electronic monitoring is often acondition of parole or probation used to ensure that the offender iswhere they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be therewithout theirparole/probation officer having to verify in person orwith a phone call. Electronic monitoring is also used in housearrest to makesure that the offender does not leave his area ofconfinement.

Electronic monitoring was in use in 25 states as of 1999, andwas in use an average of 16 weeks per offender. In 1998 therewereover 21,400 offenders on electronic monitoring

Electronic monitoring first saw use in the criminal justice system in1983 in New Mexico for white collar and DUI offenders. Thetechnology and idea of releasing institutionalized individuals firstemerged inthe 1960’s when there was a movement to deinstitutionalizepatients at mental hospitals. The idea was to monitor the patientsin the community without placing them in an institution.

Electronic monitoring is a tool used in corrections rather thana correctional program in itself. Electronic monitoring isused in intensive supervision probation, certain parole cases and forcases of house arrest. Another use of electronic monitoringthat has emerged is the monitoring of pretrial detainees. The way electronic monitoring is used within each of these programsis to ensure that certain conditions of probation/parole and housearrest are met, such as curfews. In theory electronic monitoring isa big asset to these programs and their ability to divertoffenders from overcrowded prisons.

There are several different types of electronicmonitoring devices. The bracelets, or other device that the offenderwears is a fairly simple transmitter that broadcastsat a certain frequency. The transmitter devices worn bythe offenders are tamper resistant and sound an alarm if the device isremoved or in the process of being tampered with. The other halfof the electronic monitoring system is the receiver. Thereare three different kinds of receivers. The first is a receiverattached to a phone, usually in the offender’s house or apartment. If the offender leaves a certain range from the receiver it triggersan alarm and notifies a control center where a worker checks to seeif the absence is authorized by the parole/probation officer. This is the simplest and cheapest method. The second method usesa number of monitors spread over an area and triangulates positionsimilar to the way a cell phone uses transmitter towers. Thethird typeofdevice is a hand held receiver used by parole andprobation officers to verify the offenders presence at any location withouthaving to visually verify it. Some states are experimentingwith satellite tracking using GPS devices as well. Satellite trackingwith GPS has the advantage of being able to pinpoint the location ofthe offender to within a few feet.

Other experimental monitoring devices include video cameras hooked up totheinternet and the offenders must be in front of the camera at certain timesor when paged by their probation/parole officer. Implantation oftracking devices has also been suggested. This, however, is muchmore invasive and a violation of the fourth amendment unless it can beproven that the violation of privacy does not out weigh the need formonitoring.

The devices have a number of technological problemsthat can result in headaches for corrections officers. Largeamounts of metal can block the transmitters signal, causingalarms to go off falsely. Power outages can causemonitoring systems to crash or otherwise become non-functional. The batteries in the transmission devices can fail. In addition notall devices are made of equal quality and certain monitoring devices canbe removed by the offender.

The devices used by probationand parole officers to monitor offenders are often rented from a varietyof companies that also run the monitoring centers that receive thealarms from the devices in the event of tampering or violation.

The idea of electronic monitoring has spread to other countries aswell. Sweden implemented an electronic monitoring programin 1994 with great success. Other European countries likeTheNetherlands, France and Ireland also use electronic monitoring. Canada also introduced electronic monitoring in the mid90’s.

Often the devices are only worn for aperiod of time between 11 and 18 weeks. The reason for this isthat electronic monitoring loses effectiveness after approximately 3months of use.


Lee, Jennifer B. “Putting parolees on a tighter leash; to save moneyand reassure the public, some states try satellite tracking. (Circuits) (‘the box’ is an electronic monitoring device that uses the GlobalPositioning System)” The New York Times,Jan31, 2002 pD1(N) pG1(L) col 3 (35colin).

“Under House Arrest.” (FORTUNE Advisor/Personal Technology/FutureTech)” Fortune, April 30, 2001 v143 i9 p196.

Johansson, Linda, “Invisible chains. (Sweden tests electronic tagging project for convicts)” UNESCO Courier, June 1998 p.13(2).

Harris,Jonathan, “The big brother solution. (Some Canadian provincesare usingelectronic monitoring devices to keep track of low-riskoffenders andparolees)” Maclean’s, March 25, 1996 v109 n13 p48(1).

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