“Newfangled Debtors’ Prison”: Don’t Pay For Ankle Bracelet, Return To Jail


In Richland County, S.C., anyone ordered to wear an ankle monitor as a condition of bail must lease the bracelet from a private company called Offender Management Services (OMS), which charges the offender $9.25 per day, or about $300 per month, plus a $179.50 set-up fee, reports the International Business Times. The arrangement reflects an opportunistic pitch by prison-oriented tech companies that has found favor with budget-minded government officials. Companies like OMS allow places like Richland County to save the costs of monitoring offenders by having the offenders pay themselves. If you can’t pay your electronic monitoring bill, you get sent back to jail. “The electronic monitoring people are like old-fashioned bounty hunters,” says Jack Duncan, a public defender in Richland County, who says clients have been locked for not making payments. “It's a newfangled debtors’ prison. People are pleading guilty because it's cheaper to be on probation than it is to be on electronic monitoring.”

“Offender-funded” electronic monitoring programs have exploded in popularity. States like Georgia, Arkansas, Colorado, Washington and Pennsylvania contract with for-profit companies that require individuals to pay for their own tracking. From 2000 to 2014 the use of electronic monitoring as alternative to jail detention grew by 32 percent, says the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics in a 2014 annual survey of jails. NPR reported that in “all states except Hawaii and the District of Columbia, there’s a fee for the electronic monitoring.” One industry report pegs the number of people under electronic monitoring in the U.S. at 100,000, and that number likely will grow.

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