The new age of electronic monitoring
Advances in electronic monitoring technology can in some cases provide safe and effective alternatives to incarceration in Wisconsin’s expensive and overcrowded prison system. A variety of devices can allow corrections and law enforcement officials to closely monitor the actions, whereabouts and even sobriety of nonviolent offenders, individuals awaiting trial or immigration hearings, those engaged in work release programs or people under supervision after serving a prison sentence.
First developed in the 1960s, electronic monitoring is increasing dramatically in use. Across the country, the number of people under electronic monitoring grew by 140% — from 52,000 to over 125,000 — between 2005 and 2015,1 according to a study by Pew Charitable Trusts. Wisconsin’s Department of Corrections alone monitors approximately 3,200 offenders, and many more are monitored by county sheriff’s departments in the state.
Complete numbers are not available — a problem that could be addressed with legislation requiring the reporting of more criminal justice data. But numbers have increased in many jurisdictions as officials attempted to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in jails.
Electronic monitoring should be further expanded to relieve prison and jail crowding, more effectively encourage sobriety and reentry, save significant money and ultimately improve community safety. We recommend that the state:
- Expand the use of electronic monitoring for offenders on community supervision for OWI in place of traditional supervision methods.
- Increase the use of discretionary GPS tracking of high-risk violent offenders to improve public safety during the first three years of supervision.
- Study the use of an electronically monitored home detention program for low-risk offenders over the age of 55 and those with major health conditions.
- Study the implementation of an electronically monitored home detention program for Department of Corrections work release inmates. This would be modeled on work release programs already in widespread use by county sheriffs.