Can Smartphone Apps Replace Prisons With ‘Virtual Incarceration’?


Recidivism? There may be an app for that. Public Radio International says a panel at last weekend’s South by Southwest interactive conference in Austin, Texas, focused on how prisons can use digital technology to reduce recidivism. Kara Shuler, senior consultant for the consulting firm Deloitte, suggested “virtual incarceration,” where nonviolent, low-level offenders are taken out of prison cells with support and smartphone monitoring that keeps both the community and the offender safe.

When a court determines a low-level criminal is a good candidate for the smart phone program, they would be equipped with an ankle-monitoring device to track them with GPS and given a locked smartphone with specific apps related to their needs, Shuler said. She used the example of a marijuana violator named Frank. “Frank’s app might be Breathalyze, an app that detects the eye movements in the camera on your phone,” she said. The app would also allow Frank to meet with his parole officer via FaceTime on his phone. Panelist John Vanyur, a former assistant director with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said that while there is national momentum for sentencing reforms, there hasn’t been much of a commitment to create an alternative to prisons.

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