As modern technology and the criminal justice system merge, judges are increasingly ordering defendants to wear GPS bracelets as a condition of probation and pre-trial release. GPS bracelets, typically worn around the ankle, are often used as a corrections system that monitors pre- and post-trial defendants; the defendant is monitored by the GPS bracelet during the period before trial, and awaiting imprisonment, or instead of jail time, if the defendant is found guilty. More and more pretrial programs and law enforcement agencies are using this technology within the community supervision arena.
First, how do GPS bracelets work when monitoring a defendant? In addition to other features, GPS bracelets have communication and sensor devices. For example, a defendant convicted of a drug crime may get a GPS bracelet that periodically monitors sweat to determine a defendant’s compliance with sobriety requirements. Sometimes, the devices work as trackers: they allow correctional officers to communicate with the wearer about approved movements (if restrictions apply); some vibrate when a supervising office tries to connect with the defendant. Instructions are usually provided to declare the receipt of the communication. If the GPS bracelet vibrates but instructions are not provided, it is highly recommended to inform the assigned probation or parole officer immediately. Failure to do so may result in penalties.
Another feature of GPS bracelet design is radio frequency transmission that communications to a monitoring station. GPS bracelets require accurate location technology for two main reasons:
- To allow defendants freedom in specific areas and allow officers to communicate with defendants if that limitation is close to being reached.
- To ensure that defendants awaiting trial are able to be tracked, if they are not initially deterred from fleeing.
Often times, the conditions for the GPS bracelet differ among individuals—some may get be sentenced to house arrest for the whole period of monitoring, and others may have freedom to move to stay indoors for the whole period of the sentence; some defendants are allowed to travel or work or travel within the community. Regardless of the terms of the sentence, a defendant is typically ordered to wear a GPS bracelet non-stop—and, in order to monitor the defendant all day every day, the device must be tamper-resistant Other restrictions involved with GPS bracelet monitoring include: avoiding signal interference; refraining from consuming drugs or alcohol; submitting to random drug testing; payment for use, and fines for failure to comply with conditions of release; regular visits from parole or probation officers; and mandatory employment.
In fact, one of the most important benefits of GPS bracelets is that they allow defendants to get back into society as quickly as possible. Monitoring by a GPS bracelet is viewed as a much more favorable alternative to incarceration. Once the defendant is granted release upon conditional GPS bracelet monitoring, they are essentially able to continue on with their regular life and activities. Typically, when a defendant has been sentenced to house arrest, exact terms are prearranged—a schedule specifying the permitted activities will be put in place. Defendants are usually allowed to move around in order to meet the mandatory conditions of the GPS bracelet monitoring sentence, such as employment, and additionally activities, like grocery shopping or attending church; otherwise, a monitored defendant is required to remain within the specified range of the designed monitoring equipment.
While avoiding jail time is the most notable benefit of monitoring by GPS bracelets, there are some downsides. A defendant subject to monitoring by GPS bracelets may end up with additional arrest warrants, be required to return to court frequently, or pick up charges for tampering with the device. Sometimes, GPS have faults or flaws that end up being attributed to the defendant, with severe penalties resulting. In some instances, the system may malfunction, or a defendant could get accused of breaking the agreed terms. The device can also sound an alarm if the individual wearing the GPS bracelet tampers with the device in an attempt to remove it. Taking out or interfering with the monitor is illegal and can be punishable by about five years imprisonment, paying up to $5,000 fine, or both.
The GPS bracelet’s warning signal does not only get deployed to the defendant, but also the probation or parole officers who control it. For example, if a defendant fails to adhere to the rules by going beyond the permitted location range, authorities will be notified and follow up. The violation could be considered a violation of the sentence and additional consequences may be imposed; such as being arrested on sight or being ordered to appear before a judge. Ultimately, the judge can revoke the GPS bracelet and jail the individual who violates the required conditions of monitoring.
Another crucial concern about monitoring by GPS bracelets is the existence of microphones on the devices. The main benefits of GPS bracelets are that they include a fixed-line phone. The monitoring system is able to call the wearer at home or at wear. The device typically uses speech recognition software to detect the identity of the individual who received the call. In the case that the defendant fails to answer, or tries to fool the system, the offender’s parole or probation officer will be notified.
GPS bracelets are also designed with microphones and communications systems to ensure communication is maintained with officers and prevent rule violations. As mentioned earlier, defendants need to be careful about loss of signal–this is a common occurrence that can lead to a broken connection to authorities. Additionally, the GPS bracelet may need to be charged frequently in order to stay powered-on for the whole day. If a defendant is out, he or she may be forced to go back to their home to charge the bracelet. Because loss of communication and tracking may be considered a sentence violation, some offenders have had their GPS bracelet monitoring revoked and served time in jail for failing to charge their device.
In conclusion, GPS bracelets feature monitoring systems with tracking and communications capabilities. For most first-time offenders and non-violent defendants, imprisonment is not an ideal sentence. As technology progresses, judges and law enforcement agencies have sought a reduction in incarceration rates through the use of alternatives such as monitoring via GPS bracelets. For an offender sentenced to wear a GPS bracelet, restrictions can be burdensome and failure to comply can lead to harsh penalties. Despite the tough requirements, these devices are still considered a favorable alternative to incarceration; defendants who comply with the requirements are able to return to their normal lives.