Sex Offender GPS Monitoring Spreads; May Not Cut Crime


Christopher Ervin, a Seattle community corrections officer, found a sex offender by firing up his computer and looking for the green dot, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. As it moved on a map, the dot told him that the offender had woken up around 5 a.m. and milled around downtown. Most important, the dot told Ervin that the 23-year-old man was not at work, but had taken a bus to a skateboarding hangout and a mall. Outfitted with an ankle bracelet and a GPS tracker, the offender is part of a booming national trend that has put thousands of sex offenders under the 24-hour watch of satellite surveillance. More than 40 states use the Global Positioning System to track offenders. At least 15 require lifetime monitoring. California voters passed a law last year requiring all felony sex offenders — about 4,000 people — to wear a tracker for life.

As more states use GPS, some have found it to be a devil’s bargain. Corrections officers praise the tool’s helpfulness, but curse the immense amount of work it creates. The technology appeases a fearful public, but may not reduce crime. Industry and corrections experts say it does; researchers say few studies exist. “Overall, we would say (electronic monitoring tools) are not effective at reducing recidivism,” said Roxanne Lieb of the Washington State Institute of Public Policy. That has not stopped the escalating number of offenders in the country forced to wear bracelets, estimated to be at least 10,000 to 15,000 on a given day.


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