Research Considerations for Using Electronic Technologies With Community Supervision
This chapter is about the future use of electronic supervision tools by community supervision agencies. In this chapter, I summarize prior research related to electronic supervision tools, with the goal to identify key areas for future research and practice. My hopes are that future research will contribute to understanding how electronic supervision technologies can improve not only key supervision outcomes (e.g., treatment attendance and completion, reduce arrests) but also improve an individual’s experience on supervision (Lattimore & DeMichele, 2020). I suggest that research should focus on the extent to which electronic technologies can (or cannot) contribute to achieving key organizational, community, and individual goals for the community corrections field. Policy-relevant research must confront the complexities of operating in real-world settings such that it is essential to understand potential concerns including unintended negative consequences, profit motives from companies, and misuse of these technologies more generally.
Criminal justice policies have serious implications for individuals, neighborhoods, and society, and, as such, these policies generate large emotional responses. These responses often pit people in one of two camps either for or against a policy. In the case of electronic supervision technologies, there are vocal opponents that see electronic supervision as technological ways to sweep up more people in the criminal justice system, others are concerned about stigma, and yet others feel these technologies violate privacy norms. The proponents tor electronic supervision, however, view these technologies as alternatives to incarceration, a form of graduated sanctions, and less punitive (than incarceration) tools to reduce recidivism.
The arguments for or against electronic supervision technologies are unsatisfying and miss the point. 1 will say up front that I am neither for nor against electronic supervision technologies. Community supervision is a human activity that requires, rather simply, for humans (individuals on probation or parole) to interact with other humans (probation or parole agents) in positive ways to provide accountability, supervision, and support. Any tool, technology, or other apparatus does not replace the need for the human element that was essential to the founding philosophy tor community supervision.
Electronic supervision technologies are tools and nothing more. These tools will not, by themselves, solve any problems—in fact, they may create new ones (e.g., increased officer workload, stress, stigma). Electronic supervision is not a panacea, silver bullet, or quick fix (DeMichele, 2014a). Rather, it is a tool that community supervision agencies may consider adopting, but they need to be fully prepared for the costs, time commitment, and other issues related to implementation and use
(DeMichele & Payne, 2009; Payne & DeMichele, 2010a). Such adoption includes agencies identifying how certain electronic technologies may alleviate the risks an individual poses for rearrest or revocation, how electronic technologies can nudge individuals closer to supervision goals (e.g., attending treatment, going to work), and ensure that electronic technologies are responsive to the realities tor any individuals circumstances (i.e., responsivity).
This chapter is divided into four sections. First, there is a short introduction describing the history of electronic supervision technologies. Second, key research about electronic supervision tools with community corrections populations is presented. Third, I suggest some ideas for future research. 1 conclude the article by pointing out that the criminological community should focus on how electronic technologies contribute to achieving the purposes ot sentencing (e.g., incapacitation, public safety), ethics of punishment (e.g., proportionality), and more attention given to whether electronic technologies can facilitate a more just, ethical, and less intrusive form of punishment. The article ends with a call to the criminological field to fully investigate the potential and limitations of electronic technologies for community supervision. There is a rapidly growing market of devices that are being advertised to the corrections field as improvements, but there has yet to develop a robust research agenda around how these technologies impact organizations, communities, and people. Within this conclusion, I suggest that electronic monitoring companies need to participate in a holistic research agenda and the criminological community should develop standards tor the implementation and use of technologies.
Nearly a decade ago, Brian Payne and I were funded by the National Institute ofjustice (NIJ) and the Bureau ofjustice Assistance (BJA) to prepare a comprehensive document to provide the community supervision field with guidance about electronic technologies. Throughout the early 2000s, many technologies were emerging, and old technologies were being enhanced (e.g., additional cellular power, video, remote alcohol detection). Many local, state, and federal governments were passing laws that included some amount ot location monitoring for individuals convicted of certain crimes (e.g., drunk driving, sex crimes). There was concern about the potential tor unanticipated negative consequences related to passing laws that ignored specific risks and needs to set conditions of supervision (Button, DeMichele, & Payne, 2009).
Community corrections practitioners and executives stressed that technologies are not programs or solutions. Community corrections professionals wanted supervision to live up to the historical and underlying philosophy of probation and parole. Community supervision is rooted in 19th- century reformist ideals suggesting that people end up in the criminal justice system due to social circumstances. And, with the right amount ot guidance, assistance, and accountability, people would refrain from criminal activity. Hearing the concerns and hopes from community corrections executives motivated the development ot a document titled Offender Supervision with Electronic Technology (DeMichele & Payne, 2009) to emphasize that these technologies are tools, and agencies need to develop case plans that recognize key features of effective supervision practices (e.g., individual risks and needs).
Electronic technologies have the potential to be an additional resource to enhance the effectiveness of an overall supervision plan (e.g., increasing treatment completion). Electronic supervision technologies may provide information about where an individual is located (e.g., whether at home, exclusion zone) or whether they are drinking alcohol (e.g., remote alcohol monitoring), and this may (or may not) be useful information. However, it is important not to create problems for new electronic technologies to solve. Rather, community corrections professionals stressed that these technologies need to be used in an intentional manner that fits with an overarching case plan (Button et ah, 2009; DeMichele & Payne, 2009). Moreover, there is a real concern about unintended and unanticipated negative consequences related to stigma and the influence of corporate interests.
The use of electronic monitoring in the criminal justice system owes itself to the confluence of a tew key actors. First, in the mid-1960s, the Schwitzgebel brothers were two Harvard University psychology graduate students who wanted to apply operant conditioning principles to develop alternatives to incarceration. They hoped that remote location monitoring (without GPS) could provide a system that would make it possible to monitor individuals in their community such that “incarceration will no longer be necessary as a means of controlling behavior and protecting society” (Schwitzgebel, Schwitzgebel, Pahnke, & Hurd, 1964, p. 237, as cited by Gable, 1986, p. 167). The Schwitzgebels conducted several experiments to monitor the whereabouts of parolees, mentally ill patients, and research volunteers in Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts. They fit participants with equipment weighing about two pounds that could document an individual’s whereabouts that were displayed on a lighted map (Gable, 1986).
Another key figure in the development of electronic supervision tools in criminal justice systems is Judge Jack Love, a District Court Judge from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who wanted to incorporate electronic technologies in the court system. In the late 1970s, Judge Love wanted to use an offender’s telephone to report his or her presence or absence at home. In 1983, Judge Love sentenced the first individual to a term of “house arrest” in Albuquerque, New Mexico (Burks, 1989). Judge Love and the Schwitzgebel brothers were optimistic about the possibility of electronic technologies to reduce the reliance on incarceration. In fact, the Schwitzgebel brothers wanted to create mechanisms to deliver positive responses for good behaviors because they recognized the harmful effects many younger justice involved individuals experienced related to incarceration.
Electronic supervision was initially intended as a low-cost alternative to incarceration tor relatively minor offenders to assist with rehabilitation and social reintegration (Gable, 1986). The spread of these systems through the 1990s brought criticisms of net widening, and research demonstrating their effectiveness was lacking. There is still surprisingly little research about electronic monitoring, with early research painting an equivocal picture and more recent research being more optimistic. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, several probation and parole departments began adopting similar house arrest and curfew monitoring programs across the country. These devices have, traditionally, been referred to as electronic monitoring devices, and they can only determine whether a person is within the proximity to a radio-frequency receiver installed in the offender’s home.
Electronic monitoring technologies generally include either radio frequency (RF) or global positioning systems (GPS). The RF system allows a computer to receive a signal (i.e., radio signal) from a transmitter connected to an individual’s telephone that can receive radio signals from a bracelet worn by the individual to indicate whether the individual is at home (within a certain range of the receiver) during required times. The individual’s proximity to the receiver is constantly monitored and transmitted via telephone lines sending data to a central computer. If the offender moves too tar away from the transmitter during prohibited times, officials are notified. Similarly, if the offender is detected by the receiver when he or she should not be within range (e.g., when he or she should be at work or treatment) the monitoring agency will notify appropriate individuals (Nellis, 1991, p. 166).
More recent technologies have led to the development of electronic monitoring devices relying on GPS and cellular technologies. These technologies allow tor the “monitoring of movement rather than just single locations” (Nellis, 2005). Typically, individuals are fitted with an ankle monitoring that includes a GPS signal receiver, portable tracking device ensuring the GPS signal remains with the offender, and a cell phone to relay information to a central monitoring agency. The monitoring agency can be notified of locations the offender is allowed to and prohibited from going, known as inclusion and exclusion zones, respectively. If the offender and his or her transmitter are detected in an unauthorized area (e.g., near a victim’s home) the monitoring agency generates an alert. Agencies can choose between active (i.e., near real time) and passive location (i.e., delayed) reporting.
Prior Research Summary
Despite electronic monitoring being used since the 1980s, there is surprisingly little research. Brian Payne and Randy Gainey (1998, 1999; Gainey & Payne, 2000) researched how offenders perceive their experience on electronic monitoring by conducting in-depth interviews with individuals placed in a house arrest program with electronic monitoring and found that individuals experienced (1) financial problems related to electronic monitoring, (2) strained familial relationships, and (3) physical distress due to the device (Gainey & Payne, 2000). The interviewees went further to identify six dimensions of the electronic monitoring experience: (1) lack of privacy, (2) shamefulness/ embarrassment, (3) disruptiveness (e.g., sleep interruption, limited leisure time), (4) social restrictions (e.g., lack of free to leave home), (5) workplace interruptions, and (6) reduced drug and alcohol use.
Although Gainey and Payne (2000) found that many individuals supervised with electronic monitoring experienced stigma, they also found that several individuals acknowledged positive benefits related to electronic monitoring. One individual stated “EM helped keep my life together.” Another individual said that “[electronic monitoring] affected my life profoundly, in a good way, focused my attention on my drinking. ... 1 didn’t take the law very seriously” (Gainey & Payne, 2000, p. 88). Taking these findings together suggests that electronic monitoring tools have the potential to hinder and help the supervision experience, likely depending on the individual’s readiness for desistance and cognitive transformation (DeMichele, 2014a).
Quantitative studies provided rather mixed findings regarding the recidivism reduction potential of electronic supervision technologies. Courtright, Berg, and Mutchnick (1997) compared recidivism of individuals convicted of driving under the influence supervised with electronic monitoring with those receiving jail sentences and found no meaningful differences in recidivism rates following release. In Canada, researchers found that individuals wearing electronic monitoring devices had an increased likelihood to complete treatment. And, treatment completers were significantly less likely—than similar individuals not completing treatment—to violate conditions of their supervision (Bonta, Wallace-Capretta, & Rooney, 2000a, 2000b). Besides the indirect benefit on recidivism related to electronic monitoring, Bonta et al. (2000a, p. 61) found that individuals on electronic monitoring had more favorable attitudes toward staff (e.g., empathy, trust).
Research by Finn and Muirhead-Steves (2002) considered the degree to which individuals convicted of violent crimes avoided prison in a four-year follow-up as compared to similar non- nronitored individuals. Although the researchers found that electronic monitoring did not reduce recidivism tor the entire sample, among sex offenders, those who were monitored were less likely to return to prison than those who were not monitored. Despite this finding, and perhaps because of the small number of sex offenders in their sample (n=35), Finn and Muirhead-Steves (2002) did not suggest the need to use electronic technologies to monitoring individuals convicted for sex crimes.
Renzema and Mayo-Wilson (2005) conducted a meta-analysis of the research on outcomes of high-risk offenders and electronic monitoring. The authors looked at all the research on electronic monitoring and concluded “that applications of [electronic monitoring] as a tool for reducing crime are not supported by existing data” (p. 220). Renzema and Mayo-Wilson (2005) only looked at research measuring recidivism and did not consider a potentially broader use for electronic supervision technologies as part of community supervision.
Research by Edna Erez and Peter Ibarra (2007) found interesting results from a pretrial program using electronic monitoring of domestic violence defendants by making victims safer. Often domestic abuse is prosecuted as a misdemeanor with the accused released during the pretrial phase. The time after the arrest and before the trial can be a dangerous time tor potential victims. Mobile exclusion zones can be established so that it an accused person (wearing the device) goes near the victim, alerts are sent in near real time to both the officer and the alleged victim. This technology may not necessarily alter an offender’s desire to abuse his or her partner, but Erez and Ibarra (2007) found that victims felt much safer and fewer victimizations occurred during the pretrial phase.
Erez and Ibarra (2007) found that the bilateral electronic monitoring technology increased the potential for alleged victims of domestic violence to reclaim their space, feel safe in their own homes, and get on with their lives with some added sense of security. They identified the central purpose of pretrial electronic supervision technologies for domestic violence defendants as facilitating “victim reentry” more than functioning as an evidentiary tool. Erez and Ibarra (2007, p. 118) found that “the victim can remain at home, but without the controlling presence that had previously organized her daily existence.” And, the authors go further to point out that
the victim has a broader array of resources to activate in the event of need; she is not restricted to calling a police dispatcher lacking familiarity with her case or seeking solace and protection in a personal support network. She can mobilize a variety of functionaries with personal knowledge of her identity and the intricacies of her abuse history.
More recently, two notable National Institute of Justice studies showed positive results for electronic supervision. First, in Florida, Padgett, Bales, and Blomberg (2006) found that offenders monitored with either radio-frequency or global positioning systems (GPS) had significantly lower rates of revocations for technical violations or new crimes as well as lower absconding rates. Bales et al. (2010) conducted a follow-up study in which they found that individuals supervised with electronic technologies had a 31% lower failure rate than similar individuals not on electronic supervision. And, those monitored with GPS had a 6% lower failure rate than those on radio-frequency monitoring. Second, Gies et al. (2012, 2013) found significant differences in arrests, reconvictions, and returns to prison among sex offenders in California, and similarly positive findings were found with a sample of released gang members. Both Bales et al. (2010) and Gies et al. (2012, 2013) included matched comparison groups using propensity matching methods.
If community corrections agencies include electronic technologies as part of the supervision experience, it is important that researchers develop comprehensive knowledge about the related outcomes, implementation issues, and unintended negative consequences. Due to large caseloads and the number of conditions per supervisee, many community corrections officers struggle to complete all their required work responsibilities (DeMichele & Payne, 2017). Using electronic supervision technologies will add to officer workload because these technologies generate a significant amount of information about the individual’s behavior, and this information is worthless if agencies do not establish adequate procedures for processing the information (see Maryland Task Force to Study Criminal Offender Monitoring, 2005; Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole, 2007). With the additional information generated by electronic supervision tools comes the responsibility to process the information and to take appropriate action (e.g., potential liability for negligence if appropriate reactions are not made).
Research Agenda for Electronic Supervision Technologies: Goals, Purposes, and Ethics
Future research should study the potential tor electronic monitoring to enhance community supervision goals. These devices should be assessed to understand how they contribute to achieving desired organizational, community, and individual goals. Organizational goals could be related to issues such as workload, budget, and integration into the organization’s mission. Community goals may include assessing to what extent electronic monitoring technologies contribute to cultural norms for each community. Individual goals may include successful completion of intermediate steps (e.g., treatment, employment) and longer-term goals related to cognitive transformation. If electronic technologies are going to be used as part of community corrections, there needs to be a creative research agenda that goes beyond whether these tools reduce recidivism (e.g., arrest, court appearance).
Community supervision agencies, researchers, and technology developers should collaborate to research the potential benefits, costs, and negative impacts for organizations, communities, and individuals. Heretofore, the companies selling electronic monitoring devices do so without conducting publicly available research about their effects. Instead, these companies conduct tests to ensure that the devices function as intended (e.g., track locations, measure strap tampers), but they are not required to participate in rigorous research about the impacts of these devices. In 1966, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act enacted numerous safety regulations on the automobile industry that included cars sold in the U.S. were required to provide seat belts. Similar to the automobile industry, electronic monitoring companies need external pressure to identify and mitigate the negative impacts of these tools.
I suggest a research agenda that assesses the extent to which these devices contribute to supervision goals (i.e., organizational, community, and individual), meet the purposes of sentencing (e.g., rehabilitation, retribution), and adhere to ethical principles (e.g., proportionality, parsimony, fairness). For electronic supervision to have a meaningful impact on the community corrections field, researchers should move away from asking whether electronic monitoring works or not. This is oversimplified and similar to asking whether computers, cars, or other tools that officers use work. These tools are all dependent on humans and only work as well as the infrastructures supporting them and the people operating them. Additionally, the recent NIJ studies provide strong indication that for individuals post-release electronic technologies are related to recidivism reductions. As tools, they do have the potential for unintended negative consequences and if they are to be a mandated part of a criminal punishment than companies profiting from these devices should be required to participate in research to understand their effects. Such a research agenda would emphasize the goals, purposes, and ethics related to the technologies and the people affected by them.
Far too often in the criminal justice system, manufacturers can sell goods and services by only demonstrating functionality and not demonstrating their efficacy. There are no standards tor how to use electronic monitoring devices or what the expected effects of using these devices are. In fact, there is limited reporting of the use of electronic monitoring by community corrections agencies. This, of course, is not to say that electronic monitoring cannot improve supervision—as prior research shows potential—-just that researchers and policymakers need to step away from treating these tools as programs or strategies. They are an additional tool that may be helpful to provide officers with a sense of where offenders were at certain times (GPS) and whether they were at home when they were supposed to be (radio frequency). These devices do not make officers’jobs easier. Instead, they increase the workload and costs associated with supervision (DeMichele & Payne, 2009; Gies et al., 2013).
There need to be several experiments to identify the least restrictive (on the client) and least resource-intensive (for the agencies and officers) electronic technologies that contribute to supervision goals, meet the purposes of sentencing, and adhere to ethical principles. Critics of community corrections point to the damaging effects of sanction-stacking in which numerous conditions are imposed on individuals (DeMichele, Payne, & Button, 2008), but these conditions do not form a coherent supervision strategy (DeMichele & Payne, 2012; Payne & DeMichele, 2011). Often conditions are imposed not because they fit the specific needs of an individual but rather because they are required by statute or are an institutionalized practice.
Similarly, just because the technological capacity exists, that doesn’t mean it is useful. Locationtracking with GPS received a lot of attention as way to protect communities from sex offenders (Button et al., 2009), but does GPS tracking protect society or contribute to other goals of supervision? Electronic supervision technologies were initially developed to reduce the pains associated with punishment, but research is lacking to determine what the minimal amount of surveillance needed is.
The criminological community should broaden our thoughts about what is included as electronic technologies as more than RF and GPS. We need more studies about how to use technologies for lower-risk individuals. Do lower-risk clients perform better when technological components are not used at all, or do these clients benefit from automated (e.g., telephone, text message, kiosk) supervision components? If lower-risk clients perform better with technologies, which technologies, for how long, and what is the officer’s role?
On the other hand, how should technologies be used with higher-risk individuals? Do higher- risk clients benefit from more restrictive technologies (e.g., GPS location tracking)? Or, will less restrictive technologies (radio frequency) work just as well? How long should these technologies be included (assuming they have some effect) as part of the conditions of supervision? Do any behavioral improvements subside once technologies are removed? Are technologies more effective when used in a graduated sanctioning framework? And, what would this framework look like (structured officer decision-making such that there is a step-down process with technologies from more to less restrictive)?
More research is needed to understand the experiences of the justice-involved, including victims. Does GPS improve the performance of domestic violence clients and their victims (thinking specifically about the bilateral applications)? How does the justice-involved experience electronic technologies? Research is needed to explore the lived experiences of supervision with electronic technologies for clients. This could include surveys, interviews, and observations with individuals on supervision to identify the barriers, benefits, and ways that clients navigate society when electronic technologies are included in their supervision plan. Research should study whether electronic technologies can assist individuals to integrate in society, not use technologies as a further sign of their conviction that prevents employment, education, and social participation. Social integration, not surveillance, should be what community corrections is working towards.
Research is needed to identify how officers experience the supervision process when electronic technologies are included. This would involve qualitative research with officers to identify time constraints, how officers process false alerts, how alerts are prioritized (e.g., alert response priority protocols), and how electronic technologies impact their ability to supervise clients. Response protocols are needed to structure officer decision-making. A major issue with some technologies (RF and GPS, but more severe with the latter) are alerts for strap, battery, signal, and other non- intentional issues. These are not false alerts because something is happening, but they only warrant a minimal response from officers; whereas open strap (i.e., cut or removed anklet) requires a more serious response. There is a need for a vast amount of organizational research to provide agencies with research-based guidance on the adoption, implementation, and use of electronic monitoring technologies. Currently, what guidance does exist comes from technology vendors.
Research is needed to look at how to integrate different technologies within the supervision process. Technologies provide agencies with an additional tool, but we must remember that supervision is a human-intensive profession. We cannot just install devices and these things do all the work. In fact, in many cases technologies require more officer time. Technologies need to be integrated into an overall strategy of assisting clients navigate the social barriers they faced prior to their criminal justice sanction as well as the new barriers stemming from a criminal sanction. And, incorporate technologies into the process of educating/socializing clients about prosocial behavior change.
Experimental and quasi-experimental techniques could be used to vary the electronic monitoring component (and other supervision elements) to conduct regular cognitive testing of individuals. Simply, cognitive transformations take time and might move in a more zigzag, non-linear fashion in which we need to make baseline and periodic measures of attitudes and self-perception to understand how the supervision process and electronic monitoring is contributing to transformation. Currently, what little we know about the lived experience of supervision is negative; individuals dodge supervision officers, are harassed by law enforcement, and have little hope for their future. The intentions here are not to sound the “nothing works” bell; 1 am suggesting that we cannot put all ot our hope into one tool to determine whether it works. Future research should focus on how electronic monitoring contributes to overall cognitive transformations to shape prosocial life trajectories.
A lot ot rhetoric suggests that community supervision should foster prosocial behavioral change in the form of cognitive transformation. However, research has not investigated this potential. The research, to date, has suggested that offenders supervised with electronic monitoring have lower recidivism rates (and may have higher treatment completion and employment) while they are on supervision. Such findings are important to understand the intermittency effects during a spell of electronic monitoring, but future research should consider the potential to promote cognitive transformations with community supervision. 1 am unaware of any research that measures changes in cognitive transformations for adults related to supervision with electronic monitoring. Instead, recidivism is used as a proxy for cognitive transformation, but recent desistance literature has demonstrated that recidivism and cognitive transformation are not the same (Maruna, 2001; Paternoster & Bushway, 2009).
Conclusion: Research, Not Vendors, Should Guide Practice
Thinking ot electronic monitoring as a tool focuses allows for understanding the potential for both positive and negative effects. These devices have the potential to break, fail to report correctly, and increase officer stress and workload. Electronic monitoring tools do not have intrinsic supervisory powers; they provide some indication of a persons location, but they tell us nothing about what people are doing. A prime example involves a California case in which Phillip Garrido and his wife kidnapped and held a young girl captive for nearly 18 years. During part ot this time, Mr. Garrido was on parole supervision with GPS tracking, but it went undetected that he had a kidnapped girl (and the two young children he fathered with her) in tents in the backyard. His GPS revealed that he was exactly where he was supposed to be—at his home and in his backyard. Parole officers failed to conduct regular in-depth searches of the home or even walk through to the backyard. This example shows how reifying these tools can allow officers to place too much faith in them as though they are a “silver bullet” (DeMichele, 2014a).
Currently, there is a push for community supervision to alleviate the negative consequences associated with mass incarceration (i.e., overcrowding) by releasing inmates early and/or sentencing more people to probation instead ot incarceration. This push, at first glance, is a good idea. But the problem is that the numbers ot individuals on probation and parole have grown from about 500 to 1,500 per 100,000 population and from 100 to 260 per 100,000, respectively, since 1980 (DeMichele, 2014b). This growth has stretched officer workloads to unrealistic levels tor them to engage effectively in evidence-based practices (e.g., cognitive behavioral interventions and motivational interviewing). Instead, officers spend 5—15 minutes each month with most individuals on supervised release (DeMichele & Payne, 2017), and electronic monitoring takes more officer time; it does not free up time to allow officers to interact directly with others. The Tennessee Board ot Probation and Parole (2007) process evaluation showed that officers must sift through millions of data points per offender to identify non-compliance. These data points can include numerous alerts that are difficult for officers to respond to. A recent tragic case in Colorado points to problems related to response protocols in which an open strap warning was ignored tor five days because officers were inundated with alerts, and some went unnoticed. By time the alert was reacted to, Evan Ebel had shot and killed two men, including the Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, and eventually he was killed in a shootout with Texas police.
The point here is not to draw on sensational cases to suggest that electronic supervision is ineffective. Rather, 1 suggest that treating electronic supervision as a program has the potential to result in various unanticipated negative consequences that may set up agencies for failure. Electronic supervision is expensive and requires a lot of officer time, and jurisdictions that cannot dedicate ample resources in time and money should avoid incorporating these technologies. They are not a silver bullet or panacea. Instead, if electronic monitoring is going to be used, then policies and research should identify how this component contributes to supervision goals, meets the purposes of sentencing, and adheres to ethical principles.
Formal punishments reflect cultural sensibilities as they set normative behavioral boundaries. The criminological community should assess the deeper implications of electronic technologies in supervision. For instance, Outreach Smartphone Monitoring claims to provide GPS tracking and in-depth monitoring for $2 per day. This application is marketed as an easy, reliable, effective, and convenient way to use “smart phones for smart supervision.” One criticism of electronic supervision technologies is that they are expensive (with GPS closer to $10/day). Technological advancements are happening so quickly that electronic supervision will likely become even less expensive than $2/day. Making technologies cheaper does not inherently make them more legitimate, effective, or needed. Instead, less expensive technologies may seem more attractive to agencies that implement with them without fully thinking through implications related to net widening, officer stress, and increased burden and workload.
Research on electronic supervision has been driven by vendors. Radio-frequency house arrest emerged in the 1980s as a technological improvement to traditional supervision, and in the 2000s agencies were encouraged to buy GPS monitoring as an improvement to house arrest. These tools were incorporated with little empirical assessment of their affects. What technologies will be sold to agencies in the future? Social science research needs to get in front of technological development because we are on the cusp of a technological boom that is likely to make possible an assortment of unimaginable devices to incorporate into supervision.
Lastly, there is little attention being paid to the philosophy and ethics of incorporating technologies. How far are we willing to go with electronic supervision? Bagaric, Hunter, and Wolf (2018) made a compelling (yet startling) argument for technological incarceration. Technological incarceration has three conditions. First, individuals wear electronic monitoring devices with realtime location tracking. Second, these technologies include wearable sensors to allow tor tracking sounds, video, and movement that can detect prohibited behavior. The third component is “remote- controlled Conducted Energy Devices (CED) to immobilize offenders who are in the process of committing serious criminal acts or moving outside the locations to which they have been confined” (Bagaric et al., 2018, p. 79). Bagaric et al. (2018) claim that technological incarceration would make prisons obsolete tor all but a limited dangerous subset of current inmates. Interestingly, according to Bagaric et al. (2018), technological incarceration is possible; that is, the technology exists. They claim that technological incarceration would reduce the stigma and pains of incarceration by leaving people in the community living with their families and participating in social activities. Proponents of house arrest with RF made the same claims about reducing incarcerated populations in the 1980s.
In this article, I suggested that the criminologists should focus on how electronic technologies contribute to the goals of supervision, purposes of sentencing, and ethical forms of punishment. A fruitful research agenda needs to understand potential concerns including unintended negative consequences, profit motives from companies, and misuse of these technologies more generally. The criminological field should develop guidelines and standards for the use of technologies as forms of punishment.
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