GPS monitoring for gang members on parole

Good idea. But it shouldn’t cost thousands of dollars per parolee. Cellphone providers provide the same service to parents for $200 for the device and $20/mo.

Now that parents can buy tamper-evident GPS units for their kids to wear, enabling them to (1) find the kids if they’re lost and (2) know where they’ve been, why can’t we do the same thing for probationers and parolees? (I’ve been asking this question for years now; I’m boring that way.) The better we can control people who aren’t in prison, the fewer the people we need to send to prison.

Gov. Schwartzenegger proposes to apply the new technology to gang members on parole. Democrats in the California legislature predictably complain that we should spend the money on social services instead. No surprises there.

What is surprising is the estimated cost: $3000 per anklet per year, plus “thousands of dollars” in parole officer time to monitor the results. Huh? I can’t figure out whether this is the result of over-specifying on the requirements end or a sweetheart deal with the supplier, but there’s no reason it should cost anything like that to run, and it ought to cost zero in parole-officer time; all you need is exception reporting. That is, the device should be programmed with the parolee’s daily schedule, and any deviation should show up on the parole officer’s computer screen when he logs in the next morning. Require the parolee to show up once a week to veryify the device hasn’t been tampered with. Make chasing those who abscond a high priority for the police. End of story.

Sprint offers an equivalent service for tracking children for $20/mo. plus $200 for the cellphone it works with. Making a tamper-evident bracelet or anklet that alterts if it’s removed can’t be very hard; the device doesn’t need to be foolproof as long as you can tell if it’s been fooled with. And I’d rather track a thousand criminals pretty well than track sixty perfectly.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: