Could GPS bracelets solve our prison overcrowding problem?
U.S. prisons have a serious overcrowding problem. It’s gotten so bad in California that a judge ordered the state to set 40,000 inmates free. The Governator is trying to get that ruling overturned by appealing to the Supreme Court.
Over on the East Coast, Philadelphia District Attorney hopeful Michael Untermeyer has a more creative solution:
Untermeyer said Thursday the city could save millions of dollars by moving nonviolent defendants out of the prison system and keeping tabs on them electronically instead.
Untermeyer says it costs $98 a day to keep someone locked up but just $8 a day to monitor them electronically.
Untermeyer is totally ‘locked in’ on this issue. He’s wearing the GPS ankle bracelet for the next month and allowing voters to track his movements online. Here are the instructions. I tried to track that scoundrel down but the software at SenTrak Offender Management Solutions doesn’t seem to agree with my computer or that of my colleague.
If Untermeyer wins and goes through with this, I hope he can get SenTrak to improve their software. But should he really go through with this? Would this be a viable — or advisable — solution for overcrowded prisons?
Prisons are supposed to help rehabilitate wrongdoers, to act as a deterrent to would-be criminals, and to keep offenders on lockdown so they can’t cause more trouble. In many states, inmates are released early and put on house arrest with GPS bracelets. The technology has been in use for about a decade, especially in the cases of sex offenders and domestic abusers. Police monitor their whereabouts to make sure they stay away from schools and the homes of their victims.
But what if we replaced jail time with GPS bracelets for all nonviolent offenders? Being tracked 24/7 might be a scarier prospect than being locked in a cell for a few months.
Unfortunately, the technology isn’t perfect yet. Untermeyer’s experiment illustrates software problems. Sometimes, there are problems with the bracelets’ wireless signals as well. Just like our cell phones, the bracelets experience “no service” zones when wearers go underground or into certain buildings.
As soon as they work out the kinks, I’m all for this. Maybe someone could even develop a cool smartphone application tapping into the technology. As you’re walking your city streets, you could check your phone to see how many criminals you’re surrounded by at any given moment. Fun!