Newspaper Shows Flaws In MA Probation Electronic Monitoring


A convicted Massachusetts rapist – just out of prison and still on probation – forced his way into a woman's home and tormented her for more than two hours in February, repeatedly raping her, then forcing her to bring him beer and drive him to an ATM. All the while, reports the Boston Globe, an electronic device on William French's ankle was sending a signal to the Probation Department's 24-hour monitoring centers, where six staff members could track his every movement on their computer screens. The device couldn't tell them what French was doing; even when he triggered an alarm by cutting off the bracelet, probation employees didn't call police. They faxed an arrest warrant containing no information about French's location.

It took another three hours before the victim, bloodied after yet another assault, escaped from her captor and screamed until a neighbor notified police. Ankle bracelets were supposed to make Massachusetts safer, argued Probation Commissioner John J. “Jack'' O'Brien and his legislative argued as they built one of the nation’s biggest, most expensive monitoring systems. Like much of O'Brien's work during his 12 years at the department, his claim for the benefits of electronic monitoring collides with the facts. Nearly 1,000 criminals and suspects wearing ankle monitors are hit with arrest warrants in a typical year, but the agency has only recently taken small steps to measure the risk to the public from the people in the program. They don't even track how many go back to prison for crimes committed while wearing a bracelet. Any claim that electronic surveillance saves money is undercut by the fact that probation has hired more employees to provide the service – 59 – than any other state.

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