COVID-19 Boosts Fortunes of Electronic Monitoring Firms

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ankle monitor

Electronic ankle monitors are widely used to monitor individuals on parole or probation. Photo courtesy CPIPR

While COVID-19 has decimated many businesses and produced frightening unemployment rates, one business is thriving around the world: makers of electronic ankle monitors, Bloomberg Businessweek reports.

An estimated 25 percent to 30 percent more prisoners are wearing bracelets now compared to the pre-outbreak period.

“The companies are betting that this can be a test run for a longer-term shift in sentencing,” writes Cara Tabachnick, former deputy editor of The Crime Report, in the story posted Tuesday.

“Criminal justice reformers say they’re worried about an added layer of surveillance in a field that’s been rife with abuse.”

In the U.S., the Federal Bureau of Prisons has placed about 4,600 inmates in home confinement, a 160 percent increase since the end of March.

“Demand has spiked everywhere,” said Robert Murnock, vice president for partnership development at BI Inc.

Research shows that electronic monitoring (EM) can lower criminal justice costs, decrease prison populations, and reduce recidivism, but prisoners are often expected to pay costs of wearing them.

The costs can run from $10 to $35 daily, depending on the state, but it’s unclear if rates have been affected by the surge of prisoner releases since the outbreak.

High costs to EM wearers and faulty equipment are persistent issues. If something goes wrong with the bracelet, such as the failure to charge properly, the wearer risks being accused of violating release conditions and could be returned to prison.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, some corrections officials who run the EM programs say they were already overtaxed before COVID-19.

In Cook County, Sheriff Thomas Dart warned state criminal justice stakeholders that he doesn’t have the resources to keep up with the surge in monitored prisoners.

European Union nations have put thousands of nonviolent offenders on monitoring equipment since the pandemic began, with about 3,400 in Spain and 1,000 in Italy.

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