Probation technology is associated with the option to be released into the "real world" under an electronic monitoring program with a probation officer's supervision. With the rise in current probation technologies, it is possible to ease the overcrowding in prisons and jails by being able to closely monitor non-violent offenders as they live in the community. Depending on the condition of the offenders’ parole or early release from prison, different technologies are implemented such as ankle monitor or alcohol monitor. As participating probationers continue to choose electronic monitoring program, the reliability of its technology is becoming a bigger issue along with this technology replacing specific roles of parol officers. This chapter will introduce current probation monitoring technologies and explore various social groups and roots of division impacted by this new implememtation.
- 1 Overcrowding in Prisons
- 2 Technology
- 3 Relevant Social Groups
- 4 Roots of Division
- 5 How does Probation Technology effect Society and vice versa?
- 6 References
Overcrowding in Prisons
If we don’t change the course now, we will be building prisons forever and ever—prisons we can’t afford.
— John Whitmire, Austin-American Statesman
United States federal and state prisons along with county jails are currently experiencing “near-crisis” levels of overcrowding. More than one in every 100 adults is imprisoned in the US. The US has both the highest number of prisoners in the world, with over 2.3 million adults currently serving time, and the highest rate of incarceration. China comes in second with approximately 1.5 million prisoners while Russia comes in third with around 890,000 prisoners.
|“||We are jammed up with this situation right now because we have fallen in love with one of the most undocumented beliefs: That somehow you get safer if you put more people in jail.||”|
— Don Perata, Associated Press
The current prison growth is mainly caused by policy choices that are sending more offenders to prison and keeping them there longer, not from a parallel increase in crime or surge in population. More than half of the released prisoners are sent back to prison within three years either for violating the terms of their release or for committing a new crime. Also, prisoners are less likely to be released pre-trial and therefore jails are filling up with people who are not yet convicted of their crimes.
The situation of overcrowding in prisons coupled with cuts having to be made to the operating budgets is deteriorating. Experts believe that expanding prisons will not assist with crime prevention and will only end up costing more money.
These technologies give restricted freedom to the probationers so they can remain in the community, continue going to school or work, maintain relationships with friends and families, and receive necessary treatment or counseling. These technologies are all tamper-resistant so if the probationer attempts to disengage the device in any way, the supervising probation department is notified. The probationer is financially responsible for the monitoring device(s).
For curfew monitoring, interactive voice response technology is used to guarantee the right person is making the call to confirm their location. This is mainly used to monitor evening curfews for offenders under pre-trial supervision.
Ankle monitors use global positioning system (GPS) technology to continuously update where the offender is. Geo-zones can be implemented by having inclusion zones and/or exclusion zones. The inclusion zones include places where it is appropriate for the probationer to be in. The exclusion zones include places where the probationer is not allowed to enter. These zones are used in multiple ways, such as: to keep driving-under-the-influence (DUI) offenders away from places that serve alcohol; to keep sex offenders away from schools and playgrounds; to keep people on restraining orders away from the victim's house and work.
There are two main types of technology used to monitor the alcoholic intake of a probationer. The ignition interlock device is installed in the offender's car and requires the driver to breathe into a device to test the blood alcohol content (BAC) before the car will start. If the BAC level is under the predefined limit, the car will start. Also, after the car has started, another breath is randomly needed to keep the car running. If the BAC level goes over the limit, an alarm will sound until the ignition is turned off. The other technology is the continuous transdermal alcohol monitoring device which constantly takes BAC readings from the perspiration of the probationer. The supervising probation department is notified if the offender's alcohol level goes over the allowable limit. This is used as a screening device to determine if there is any alcohol use. If there is alcohol consumption, the offender must go in for further testing.
Relevant Social Groups
Since the prisoners are directly influenced by the probation technology, there are many aspects to be analyzed. While the probation technology offers a certain degree of freedom and opportunity to live with their families and to carry on with their daily lives, it also costs discrimination. For example, many researchers announced that electronic monitoring has improved the chances of a successful rehabilitation for youths by allowing them to remain at home and continue attending school. However, 64% of juveniles who failed to complete their term generally felt like they were criminals with ankle bracelets on. People that have been given early release from prison are thankful for the opportunity they have been given, such as this woman: "[Electronic Curfew Monitoring] has given me a sense of responsibility and put some order back in my life."
We're dealing with the most dangerous people with little backing us up. When they decrease staff levels, we have to ask ourselves: Who's watching our backs?
— Mike Schnobrich, Seattle Times
For the prison guards, electronic monitoring program can reduce the number of prisoners in a jail which will relieve their work load. However, the Bureau of Prisons has been eliminating positions nationwide where about 2,400 jobs have been cut out according to a 2005 report. Therefore, as the number of participants for the electronic monitoring program increases, the number of prison guards continues to decrease in order to save money. With the current overcrowding issue, some guards don't feel safe due to the high ration of prisoners to guards: "I felt like staffing levels were coming to a point where it was getting ridiculously dangerous to be there," said Hodge.
This electronic monitoring program definitely makes the work for probation officers easier since they do not have to take care of the prisoners physically. However, number of offenders for each probation officer continues to increase which makes it harder to keep track of. In North Carolina, each of the 90 probation officers is assigned to nearly 70 probationers in a Guilford County. They are required to supervise different criminals as counselors, supervisors, and mentors for each individual probationer. Under the heavy workload, the probation officers are also underfunded with a low pay.
Families of Victims
The families of victims may support the electronic monitoring since life outside with an ankle monitor would be harder than staying inside the jail. It seemed unfair for the prisoners to stay warm with three meals a day with the tax payers’ money. However, at the same time, the families of victims also feel unsafe that the prisoner is released into their community. For example, the family of Lisa, who has been murdered, has been writing letters urging the parole board to keep the offender on the monitor when offender received a 60-year sentence and was paroled in September 2009. Neighbors and friends also felt unsafe and participated in writing letters on a website created by Lisa's family.
Families of Prisoners
While the families of the prisoners have opportunity to spend time together with the prisoners, they have to face a certain degree of discrimination. The program can heavily burden the family including the daily cost, specific telephone land lines, and various random checks and tests. However, the family can offer the offender to smoothly transit to the society with support and motivate to make contribution to the family. Some family members believe that probation technology has removed some pressures from them, saying “Can you leave it on him, it’s been great for the kids to have him at home.”
It’s not good public policy to take all of these taxpayer dollars at a very tough time, and invest it in the prison system when we ought to be investing it in the things that are going to transform the economy, like education and diversifying the economy.
By enforcing electronic monitoring program with the use of probation technology, it can save tax-payers’ money. Compared to the daily cost of detention centers of $100–160, the electronic monitoring program only costs from $5.50 to $10 per day. Also, the public's tax burden is reduced as offenders are allowed to work and subsequently pay for their own cost. However, the general public does not feel safe regarding increased number of probationers with the ankle monitors, which the technology they cannot truly rely on.
Roots of Division
Community release programs that are conducted under strict guidelines and conditions enhance public safety because offenders who re-enter society under parole supervision are far less likely to re-offend than those who are released without the benefit of a supervised release.
A major issue that can be a cause of division between social groups is trust. For example, the trust that the technology will do what it is intended to do and that rate of recidivism actually decreases. In one case, a federal judge ordered a release of 37,000 to 58,000 of California prisoners. A growing concern is that the released prisoners will not abide by their probation and that the technology will not change matters. For example, one opinion is, “Can the technology used to keep these prisoners under control really do all it says it can do? Probation technology is NOT a magic wand that can change the person that is wearing it. So why should I feel safe if prisoners are running free?”. However, some view that integrating prisoners back into society can help them re-enter without re-offending. People believe that can help improve safety because by re-entering them into society we are trusting them and they are less likely to commit the same crime.
A serious cause of division between social groups is the idea that probation technology is stealing people's privacy and civil liberties away. Probation technology can be compared to the George Orwell's Big Brother concept where this technology is stealing freedom from people. The Graham County Probation Department in Arizona is using technology to detect drug use and while there are varying opinions on the subject one common idea is that this technology could be stripping freedom from individuals. One such comment was, "Looks like tattoos on the forehead or hand is the next step. Just seem like a civil rights violation to me." Also, probation technology is effecting the privacy and civil liberties of individuals because it is making it very hard for released prisoners to apply for legit work. "For the typical felon, freedom is more difficult to manage than prison. Not only do they have to overcome the temptation of a previous lifestyle, but also endure society’s cold shoulder. It turns out that the land of the “second chance” is really the land of 'you made your bed, now lie in it.'"  Alternatively, many believe that if you commit the crime you must do the time; therefore, the individuals get what they deserve and must suffer the consequences.
View of Prison
For many people, the view of prison is vastly different. Many believe that people should serve their time in prison because it is what they deserve. However, some believe that time could be better spent outside of prison because it is either harder outside. Also, they can enter into rehab which will allow probation technology to help them transition back into society. Texas State Representative Jerry Madden believes, “It’s far better for our society if we can get rid of the drug habit than if they just serve a short period of incarceration and go back to drugs after they come out.” 
How does Probation Technology effect Society and vice versa?
The use of probation technology has changed the way society views punishment and prison by allowing individuals that commit a crime to serve their sentence outside of prison. However, society has had a drastic effect on technology as well because social groups are invested in how this technology is implemented. The future of this technology will be shaped by society, as well as, the society's views being shaped by probation technology.
- The PEW: The Center on the States. http://www.pewcenteronthestates.org/uploadedFiles/8015PCTS_Prison08_FINAL_2-1-1_FORWEB.pdf
- Clinton County Department of Probation/ATI. http://www.clintoncountygov.com/Departments/Probation/SpecializedServices.html
- GPS Monitoring. http://www.gpsmonitoring.com/Geo-Zones-Inclusion-Exclusion-Zones.html
- Sklaver, S (2010). The Pros and Cons of Electronic Monitoring Programs in Juvenile Cases. American Bar Association. July 26th, 2010.
- Electronic Curfew Monitoring Systems. http://www.security-technologynews.com/article/electronic-curfew-monitoring-systems.html
- Tsai, C. (2006, November 8). "Ridiculously Dangerous" — prison guards say supermax is understaffed. The Seattle Times,
- Seals, R. (2009). “Probation office stretched thin”. News-record.com. Retrieved from http://www.news-record.com/content/2009/01/24/article/stretched_thin_hundreds_of_criminals_disappear_in_a_system_struggling_to_
- Kovacevich, L (2010). ‘Justice for Lisa’. Kfdm.com. Retrieved from http://web.archive.org/web/20101125011830/http://www.kfdm.com/news/lisa-40243-long-parole.html
- Ratcliff, M. (2009, February 9). Federal judges tentatively order release of 37,000 to 58,000 california prisoners. Bay View.
- Carlson,D. (2008, April 8). Prisoners Reentering Society Given ‘Second Chance’.
- Johnson, J. (2009, January 28). Probation uses technology to detect drug use. Eastern Arizona Courier,
- Tahmincioglu,E. (2010, February 17). Unable to get jobs, freed inmates return to jail. msnbc.com
- Changing the future by reconciling the past. http://www.prisonentrepreneurship.org/what/problem.aspx