Friday, November 2, 2012

The Cautionary Instruction: Tracking sex offenders for life

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
November 2, 2012

Florida law provides that all sex offenders convicted of an offense against a child under age 12 shall be monitored by GPS tracking technology for life. The law was named for Jessica Lunsford who was raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender in 2005.

Forty-one states and the District of Columbia have some form of electronic monitoring of offenders.  In Pennsylvania, the statute provides “The Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole and county probation authorities may impose supervision conditions that include offender tracking through global positioning system technology.”

At least seventeen states have laws that provide for some form of electronic tracking for sex offenders on supervised release and some states including Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Illinois Oklahoma, South Carolina and California have laws which require certain high-risk child and violent sex offenders to be monitored by GPS for life.

A study of California’s sex offender GPS tracking found significantly better outcomes for both compliance and recidivism. Re-arrest is twice as high for those offenders under traditional parole supervision. In terms of violating parole, those under GPS monitoring were 38 percent less likely to violate than those under traditional parole supervision. However, GPS monitoring costs about 30 percent more a day than traditional parole supervision.

GPS devices are capable of tracking all of an offender’s movements, both in and outside the home or place of work. In fact, commercial GPS technology is so accurate that systems can locate an offender anywhere on land or sea within a margin of error of about six feet.

There are two forms GPS monitoring -- passive and active. A passive system transmits data to the supervising agency, once or twice a day, on an offender’s movements. An active system monitors an offender in real time. If an offender enters or leaves a restricted zone the agency would be immediately notified of the offender’s location.

In May, the South Carolina Supreme Court struck down a statute that provided for life-time GPS monitoring of sex offenders. However, the court took an unusual turn and granted reconsideration of the case. Additional arguments were conducted in September and the decision is pending.

The U.S. Supreme Court has not addressed the use of lifetime electronic monitoring although they have upheld sex offender registration requirements.  Last year, the Supreme Court struck down GPS tracking by police of an individual without a search warrant.

The Supreme Court may eventually find that lifetime GPS monitoring of sex offenders is justified after balancing the offender’s individual rights against the government’s interest in protecting society against sex-offenders.

Some complain that wearing a GPS bracelet for life is overly burdensome and intrusive. However, sub-dermal (under the skin) devices may be right around the corner. Inserting an electronic tracking chip for life -- is that less intrusive or more intrusive?

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