Electronic Supervision: From Decision-Making to Implementation. (Technology Update)

Article excerpt

Electronic supervision technologies are information-gathering tools that can enhance supervision of defendants and offenders in the community. Before implementing electronic supervision, it is important to understand that the potential of such technologies is best realized when used as a supplement to existing programs and that the chosen system must be congruent with the agency's values, vision and mission to achieve optimal success.

Agency Needs

Electronic supervision can be flexible and used in many ways, for example, to enhance public and victim safety, hold offenders accountable, foster offender behavior changes, reduce jail or prison populations, and provide correctional services economically. A needs and resource assessment process should examine the entire system to determine how electronic supervision would be most beneficial. Electronic supervision strategies may be appropriate at several points within the criminal and juvenile justice systems and for different classes of offenders. The assessment also should review the available technologies to determine which form of electronic supervision might be most useful.

Legal Issues

The legal status of those who may be supervised with electronic technologies must be distinguished to plan appropriate program goals, strategies and responses to violations. Prior to trial and adjudication, defendants are considered legally innocent and their rights are protected from the power of the state, although they may be confined to ensure their appearance for trial or to protect the public. Supervision with electronic technology may be substituted for pretrial confinement to achieve these same purposes. After adjudication, electronic supervision may be used for offender punishment, rehabilitation and public safety. Further, policies and procedures that protect offenders' due process rights must be in place before anyone can be deprived of his or her freedom. As with other types of technology used in criminal justice cases, the technology must be accurate and meet scientific standards acceptable to the courts. Should a revocation be based solely on the technological evidence, the methodology used must have a high degree of accuracy. Because of these issues, it is important that all parties set clear program goals. "The rules and expectations for the offender are usually clearly defined and confirmed by the offender as understood and agreed to, minimizing the potential for disputes during [supervision]," says Eric Hanselman of Tracking Systems Corp. in Harrisburg, Pa.

Available Tools

Several technologies are available to provide information that can help achieve a variety of offender supervision goals. Automated reporting systems may be most effective with low-risk, low-need offenders to simplify and streamline the supervision process while still holding offenders accountable. Automated reporting can be done using a telephone or computerized reporting system and is useful in that the offender's identity and location can be recorded at the time of the report. This and other less restrictive supervision techniques can be used as rewards for offenders who have been in consistent compliance throughout their supervision.

Identity verification devices can range from personal identification numbers to biometric verification that recognizes different parts of the human body to ensure the reporting person is the intended offender.

Remote alcohol detection devices operate in a similar fashion to a breathalyzer. Users are required to blow into the device, which is usually in the offender's home, to measure blood alcohol content. When prompted, users must blow into the device for a long enough period of time to ensure that deep lung air is expelled. The results are recorded by a computer to determine compliance with conditions of no alcohol.

Ignition interlock devices are linked to the electrical systems of automobiles and also operate in a similar fashion to a breathalyzer. …