The Global Positioning System (GPS) has a large presence in the American prison system. In more than half of the states in the U.S., active GPS tracking and monitoring devices are being used to keep tabs on criminals, while they are out on probation or ordered to home incarceration.
The most commonly used GPS monitoring device is the GPS tracking bracelet. These bracelets (actually worn on the ankle) use a combination of GPS satellite signals and built-in GSM /GPRS (signals over a digital cellular network) to report to police or parole officers. The GPS tracking bracelet is a lightweight unit that communicates with a separate box called a personal transmitter unit (PTU). The PTU must be carried on the offender’s person, on a shoulder strap or around the waist. Some models have a transmitter that can sit on a tabletop. If the communication between devices is interrupted, an alert goes out. The prisoner and the authorities get messages and alert tones. The prisoner is also responsible for keeping the batteries charged, which must be done once or twice a day.
The ankle bracelet idea is not new, only the GPS tracking aspect of it. Earlier ankle bracelet systems ran off of radio-frequency. These were less efficient because all they could do was alert an officer or probation officer when the prisoner moved out of range of the base unit.
GPS tracking has the added benefit of location services. Not only will authorities know that a tracking violation has occurred, they’ll know where the prisoner is. GPS tracking, similar to vehicle tracking, will permit closer monitoring by the courts and a little bit more leeway for the prisoner, perhaps to travel to work or court, because much more detail is being kept of his travels.
Many researches and studies have proven that GPS tracking technology is a good way to check on offenders and see if they are following the terms of their probation or release. Some prisoners are not on home arrest, but on restricted travel. GPS tracking uses a technique called geo-fencing. Virtual geographic “safe zones” can be set up in the prisoner’s domain. These can be places like, work, church, college, court or attorney’s office. As soon as the convict goes out of the defined area or the confinement area, the bracelet will instantly send a signal to the police department.
Economically also, a GPS tracking system is a benefit to the government. It is much cheaper to track a convict’s location through this technique rather than holding him or her in prison. Housing a prisoner costs about $100 a day. Monitoring that same prisoner at home with a GPS tracking bracelet costs about $10 a day. On an annual basis, that’s $36,000 versus $3,600, per person.
GPS tracking with ankle bracelets is seen as a possible solution to our overcrowded prisons. Physical and mental health specialists believe that overcrowded prisons lead to high tension, propensity to violence and poor medical care.
A candidate running for district attorney in Philadelphia is a fan of prisoner GPS tracking systems. He recently wore a GPS tracking bracelet for a month, to make a statement about the overcrowded prison system.
Missouri is a state that does not widely use GPS monitoring bracelets for prisoners, but it is considering a program for low-risk prisoners with non-violent tendencies. A recent case is in Scott County, MO.
“We are drowning in prisoner costs," the commissioner of the Law Enforcement Restitution Board is reported to have said.
Of course, there are critics to this solution. Many point to sensational reports of crimes that were committed by prisoners on GPS home monitoring systems. Criminals have defiantly removed their GPS tracking bracelets. They immerse the device in water, fail to charge it, or sabotage the tracking ability by placing aluminum foil over the receiver.
Prison is dangerous, crowded and expensive. It’s hard to argue with a GPS tracking solution that makes economic sense. GPS tracking bracelets give prisoners the opportunity to have an improved life, to do chores, take up a hobby or perhaps start going to college.
But do criminals of any sort deserve privileges beyond the barbed wire?