ACLU Report Recommends Eliminating Electronic Monitoring in Criminal Legal System

September 29, 2022 12:00 pm

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NEW YORK — In a new report, the American Civil Liberties Union recommends replacing the use of electronic monitoring, a form of GPS monitoring increasingly used in pretrial, probation, parole, and immigration proceedings to track the location of the wearer.

Rethinking Electronic Monitoring: A Harm Reduction Guide” is a solutions-oriented report that brings together prior research on electronic monitoring, and provides recommendations for reducing the harms of electronic monitoring — and enhancing equity — until the practice is eliminated.

“Electronic monitoring is a failed reform,” said Ayomikun Idowu, a paralegal with the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, and one of the report’s co-authors. “Far from being an alternative to incarceration, electronic monitoring is incarceration in another form: e-carceration.”

In addition to tracking people’s whereabouts, electronic monitoring imposes severe conditions on people’s movement — they generally are only allowed a few hours away from home, making holding down a job, going to school, seeing family, and running basic errands nearly impossible. Many jurisdictions require people to pay for their monitor — potentially hundreds of dollars per month.

Violating any of these conditions means a person can land back in a physical jail or prison cell.

The report recommends best practices criminal legal system actors can use to reduce the harms of electronic monitoring, including strictly limiting the use of electronic monitoring, ensuring people have access to counsel, and developing standards to allow a person greater freedom of movement.

“Years of evidence shows that electronic monitoring does not achieve its purported outcomes of improving public safety, aiding in rehabilitation and ensuring court attendance,” said Yazmine Nichols, a Justice Catalyst Fellow with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, and one of the report’s co-authors. “In the report, we highlight low-tech solutions, such as court reminders and transportation assistance, that achieve these results without radically restricting peoples’ privacy and liberty.”

The report’s conclusion is that jurisdictions must replace electronic monitoring with cost-effective solutions that are less restrictive.

“Policymakers and criminal legal system actors must stop thinking about electronic monitoring as an alternative to incarceration, and invest in real alternatives instead,” said Allison Frankel, an Equal Justice Works Fellow with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project and Human Rights Program, and one of the report’s co-authors. “Until jurisdictions replace electronic monitoring, judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys can use the ACLU’s guide to reduce the number of people ensnared by this technology.”

The report, Rethinking Electronic Monitoring: A Harm Reduction Guide, can be found here:…

First-person accounts of being on electronic monitoring can be found here:…

A tipsheet for defense attorneys to challenge pretrial electronic monitoring can be found here:…

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