Saturday, May 14, 2005

Call My GPS Virtual Cell

Slate's William Saletan has been writing articles under the heading human nature Science, technology, and society. His latest discusses the use of GPS ankle bracelets to replace incarceration.
Last month in Ohio, a Hamilton County commissioner told the Cincinnati Enquirer that GPS was an 'electronic jail.' 'You just plug in the coordinates of the places they're allowed to go' and 'the hours they're supposed to be at work and the hours they're supposed to be at home,' he said. But any system that lets you go home or to a regular workplace is a better deal than jail. Johnson County, Iowa, offers GPS to inmates applying for work release so that more applications can be granted. When the Associated Press asked a paroled burglar in Georgia about the GPS device he wears to work, he pointed out that it's an improvement on the nine years he spent behind bars.
Saletan points out that
[l]awmakers promote GPS as high-tech medievalism, a way to get tough on perverts who can't be kept in jail. But the economics of the "offender-monitoring industry" tell a different story. Most jurisdictions are buying GPS not to confine criminals, but to release them. …

Visit the home pages of the major GPS firms and you'll see what's up. "For just a fraction of the cost of incarceration, you can reach your ultimate goal of public safety," says Pro Tech Monitoring. On iSECUREtrac's list of "Applications/Solutions," sex offenders rank third. The top two advertised applications are "Budget Concerns" and "Prison Overcrowding." The same two items head the list at BI Incorporated. "The average cost of keeping an inmate in jail is approximately $100 per day," observes iSECUREtrac. "Solving a situation like this normally requires increased funding, but increased funding usually means raising taxes, and raising taxes is rarely a popular political response." BI adds, "By sentencing 100 offenders to alternative sanctions rather than jail or prison, agencies can significantly decrease their spending."

This is the pitch law-enforcement officials are getting all over the country. Run a newspaper search and you'll find scores of back-page articles about this or that county looking at GPS to solve a budget or jail-crowding problem. In these articles—as opposed to front-page stories about hunting down child rapists—politicians hem and haw to avoid looking soft on crime.
Saletan's articles also have pointers to other news reports in the field for technology and society. Saletan does a good job both in his own articles and in keeping of with the news.

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