Tennessee County Uses GPS Technology, But Skepticism Surrounds Effectiveness

OM210_Final-2Law enforcement officials in Grundy County, Tennessee, are using GPS tracking technology to hold domestic violence offenders accountable and keep victims safe.

The sheriff’s department uses the tracking device for anyone arrested for domestic violence and released on bond, WRCB-TV.com reported. The offender wears an ankle bracelet, and the victim will carry a GPS key fob. The sheriff’s office sends an alert if the offender gets too close to the victim.

“We don’t want the victims to be scared anymore,” Sheriff Clint Shrum told WRCB-TV. “We want them to know we have something in place to help them be protected.”

The county started using the technology April 1, and is currently using about a dozen monitoring devices from Tennessee Recovery & Monitoring. The device costs $13 a day to operate — and the offender must pay the bill.

About 40 cases of domestic violence have been reported in Grundy County in the last six months. According to the Grundy County sheriff, the number of inmates in the jail is the lowest it’s been since last September.

Offenders typically wear the monitoring device 60 to 90 days, or until their next court appearance, the outlet reported.

Although domestic violence advocates support the practice, some jurisdictions are skeptical about the effectiveness of electronic monitoring. Orange County, Florida, for example, ended the practice after the 2012 killing of a witness by a man who was supposed to be under home confinement with an ankle monitor, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Mayor Teresa Jacobs this week told the paper, “No reinstatement of these programs is being considered at this time.”

Frederick Lauten, chief judge for Orange and Osceola counties, told the Sentinel, “electronic monitoring sounds good in theory, but working out the logistical issues is very challenging.” It might “provide a false sense of security to victims,” he said. “But there’s little you can do to stop a person bent on harming someone else.”

It’s unclear if electronic monitoring reduces recidivism rates or prevents offender from committing another crime. Marc Renzema, founder of the Journal of Offender Monitoring, said interest has dropped as agencies learned of the cost and labor the system requires. “In the early days, the technology was way oversold, and judges — and even in some of the cases corrections staff — thought it could do stuff that it couldn’t do, he told the Sentinel.

Texas Judge Meets With Offenders In Unusual Program

State District Judge Rick Magnis congratulates a graduate of his Felony Domestic Violence Court Program. Photo by Smiley N. Pool/Staff Photographer, Dallas Morning News

State District Judge Rick Magnis congratulates a graduate of his Felony Domestic Violence Court Program. Photo by Smiley N. Pool/Staff Photographer, Dallas Morning News

In February, three high-risk offenders in Texas graduated from a yearlong program that included GPS monitoring, classes to prevent abuse, and regular meetings with a judge. Despite limited evidence of the success of batterer intervention programs, the initial success of the Texas program provides a potential model for other communities.

State District Judge Rick Magnis launched the program in January 2014, and about 36 offenders who “showed signs of deadly behavior, such as strangulation or stalking” have participated, the Dallas Morning News reported. It’s thought to be the only program of its kind in Texas.

Magnis described his role as expanding beyond disciplinarian and including an interest in the men’s lives. “I want to have a relationship with them because I think some of them want to and sincerely can change, and I want them to know I’m here,” Magnis told the Dallas Morning News. But, he added, “I want them to know if they hurt someone, they’re going away.”

The judge praised the three men for sticking with the program and staying out of trouble. The men will have to report to Magnis quarterly for the next year. They will also meet regularly with a probation officer. The judge ordered their names withheld to protect their identities as an effort to allow them to keep jobs and avoid violence. (We wrote about identifying offenders on April 2, and we’ll write more about the issue in future posts.)

Magnis conceded the program was not easy – or fun. “But I do want all three of you to stay out of the penitentiary, and I do want people you’re with to feel nurtured and loved, and not hurt,” he told the paper.

The graduates received medallions and certificates. “It wasn’t easy, but this is a reward,” one graduate told the paper. “I feel like we’ve all become better men for it.”

Maine Pilots Electronic Monitoring for Domestic Violence Offenders

In October, Maine authorized a pilot program in Somerset County that electronically monitors domestic violence offenders. The jury is still out on the program’s success, but all counties in Maine have already been invited to submit proposals for their own pilot projects to begin next year.

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Maine’s Somerset County commissioners approved use of a Blutag — a one-piece GPS monitoring device for tracking the movement of people charged with domestic violence crimes.

Alongside electronic monitoring, the state also approved the “development of risk assessment protocols and domestic violence response teams to evaluate individual assault cases.” The risk assessment being used, known as the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment, helps determine the level of threat an offender poses to a victim. Depending on the level, the offender receives an ankle bracelet monitor.

In the Somerset County pilot program, a $28,000 ankle bracelet monitor is given to repeat domestic violence offenders before trial , when Kennebec and Somerset County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney says the “chances of a repeat offense are highest.”

This program is a potential game changer. In 2011, a domestic violence offender in Somerset County awaiting for his court day drove to the home of his wife and two children and committed homicide before fatally shooting himself. The victims’ relatives believe electronic monitoring could have saved their family members’ lives. Maloney agrees, “If we had known where he was at all times, this tragedy could have been avoided.”

In addition to saving lives, the program also saves money. In a country where prison overcrowding has become an epidemic, electronic monitoring can help offset this issue when used as an alternative to bail and incarceration. Maloney explains, “Instead of the bail being set at $10,000, the request is, instead, X amount of money for electronic monitoring, it becomes a reasonable request that’s not cost prohibitive for the defendant – in fact it’s less than what the bail amount is.” Maloney already has a case of a domestic violence offender that was given a bracelet rather than posting bail. The offender’s movements are tracked by a Texas firm for the low cost of $7 per day, a fraction of the cost of a prisoner awaiting trial in the county jail.

According to the National Council on State Legislatures (NCSL), there are 23 states either using GPS monitoring, or in the process of obtaining GPS monitoring for Domestic Violence.

October Surprise for Domestic Violence Offenders

10_08_2014Domestic-Violence-AwarenessIn 1981, the month of October was dedicated to Domestic Violence Awareness.

Law enforcement agencies and victim advocacy groups are demanding greater domestic violence offender accountability. In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness month, programs around the country are stepping up offender-based campaigns.

The U.S. Marshals Lone Star Fugitive Task Force of Texas is increasing efforts this October to track down offenders who have warrants out for their arrest but evade local police.

In New Jersey, Assemblyman Troy Singleton is reintroducing a bill that allows law enforcement to track offenders through GPS technology. The bill was recently vetoed by Governor Chris Christie, but Singleton is confident the technology works and questions the veto.

“What really concerned me the most was… saying that victims somehow use GPS monitoring of their offender and their abusers to be a retaliatory action.                         – Assemblyman Troy Singleton (source: NJTV News).

Victims advocacy group, The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women (NTF), released information on two bills that seek to expand existing firearms laws to cover offenders who are in dating relationships. The existing law does not protect unmarried women who experience dating violence or stalking. The web campaign to gain support for the new bills urges citizens to contact their local representatives to raise awareness and demand change.