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The Cost of the New Incarceration

W. Scott Cole

Posted on July 20, 2019 00:52

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GPS monitoring, also known as ankle bracelets, is the new incarceration. You don’t need to be convicted of anything to find yourself wearing one. Simply being charged with a crime can have you sporting new jewelry, and suddenly Big Brother is watching everywhere you go. So now let’s look at the price of this new incarceration.

Proponents call GPS monitoring a humane alternative to jail or prison. It is true that it can relieve overcrowding, but at what cost? It seems the main thing the governments, both federal and state, look at is mainly the cost to them. If the person ordered to wear it pays for the monitoring, as most of them do, that person is paying for his own incarceration, which means, for the most part, the government involved pays nothing to incarcerate this person.

For instance, St. Louis pays an average of $90 a day to hold someone in jail. In 2017, the average stay was 219 days. By placing that same person on an ankle bracelet, the cost to St. Louis is nothing. Some jails and municipalities run their own monitoring program, renting the monitors from the manufacturers or private companies for $2 to $3 a day, then charge the person wearing a monitor $10 a day.

At a time when a federal survey that found 40% of the people in the U.S. would have trouble finding $400 for an emergency, people are routinely threatened with being locked up if they fall behind in payments.

The use of monitors is steadily increasing. In 2005, the number of people wearing monitors was 53,000. Just ten years later, in 2015, that number had grown to 125,000, and it shows no sign of slowing down. Use of monitors in San Francisco tripled when a judge ordered the city to release more people without bail; all over the country, judges don’t even hold hearings to determine if a person can afford to pay for monitoring. The order is entered more and more as a matter of course, and never mind the damage to a person’s pocketbook. Defendants will plead guilty to charges for no other reason than the fact that being on probation is cheaper than being on a monitor.

Imagine what an ankle monitor would do to your bank account if you had to wear one for six months or more. It is much worse for the poor people who cannot afford a car, yet find themselves required to pay the equivalent of a car payment every month just to stay out of jail. As with much in the prison system, it is mostly the poor who find themselves in this situation. Maybe the proponents of ankle monitors should try to pay a few months monitoring. They may find it is not as humane as they think.

It seems they are just one more reason to make a bigger effort to reform the system rather than find other ways to incarcerate people.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on July 20, 2019 00:52

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