With jail crowding like never before and celebrities like Lindsey Lohan being sentenced to house arrest, ankle monitors are more popular than ever. But are these alternatives to incarceration a walk in a park? Not by any measure, says Vista probation lawyer Peter M. Liss.
A Little Information on Ankle Bracelets
In San Diego County, two types of ankle bracelets are commonly used. SCRAM (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor) is a monitored device operated by a private company which is ordered by the court before someone is convicted to ensure the defendant doesn’t consume alcohol. It is often used in lieu of a bail increase for alcohol-related offenses.
CPAC( County Parole and Alternative Custody) uses both GPS and alcohol monitoring and is the house arrest program run by the Sheriff as an alternative to jail for sentenced defendants. They will only supervise someone whose job and residence is in San Diego County. Even a minor violation can result in the offender being sent to jail to serve the rest of the mandated sentence.
The Benefits of House Arrest
The most obvious benefit of house arrest for those who go through it is the simple fact that you aren’t stuck behind bars. Depending on the specific rules you are bound by, you may be able to go to work, go shopping and otherwise live your life as you normally would with a few restrictions. Even if you are required to stay in your home, you still have the comfort of your own bed and can see friends and family at will, luxuries you would never have in jail or prison.
For society, ankle monitors save tax payers millions over incarceration costs while still providing tax payers a sense of security, knowing those on house arrest are being closely monitored.
Ankle Bracelet Problems
Despite the many benefits, it is important to remember that you are still being punished and monitored. The monitors are subject to error as well. In fact, Wisconsin sex offenders who are required to wear ankle monitors while on parole constantly report the GPS on the devices failing, providing their parole officers with false information about their location. As a result, they frequently end up behind bars for violating the terms of their parole, despite never having left their living rooms. “There are times when I’m afraid to leave whatever room I’m in, even to go to the bathroom,” said one offender. One convict begged to be returned to prison because he claimed he at least knew what was to be expected of him there.
The device’s batteries must be charged daily too and if you forget to charge it or if the battery begins to fail, it will send a signal to the your probation or parole officer, which could result in your being sent back to prison.
Even if you don’t have a faulty device, you can still have problems when you are required to go somewhere in an emergency without your parole officer’s permission. Wired shares the example of one convict who was arrested for visiting the hospital after cutting his hand. The devices are also not to be removed, even for emergency medical procedures like MRIs or CT scans that cannot be performed with the bracelets on.
While those probation and parole violations related to device errors and emergencies will probably not be ruled violations in court hearings, the fact that you are required to spend time behind bars awaiting your hearing could cost you your job.
The monitors can make it even more difficult for those on parole or probation to obtain jobs in the first place as they are not only visible signs of an offender’s criminal past, but also because those wearing the devices cannot vary from their routine without risking being sent back to prison. Because you must pay for their own monitoring (anywhere from $15 to $20 a day), the loss of a job could also result in the violation of probation or parole and a return to incarceration.
Additionally, few people are aware that many people are given monitors as opposed to being kept in jail while waiting trial. Unlike bail though, the costs of ankle monitors are not returned if you are found innocent of a crime.
And while the monitors may be less expensive than incarceration, purchasing and upkeeping the devices as well as arresting an incarcerating anyone whose GPS signal reports a violation is far more costly to taxpayers than simply allowing someone to serve probation or parole without a digital monitor.
The Best Solution is True Freedom
While an ankle monitor is generally better than incarceration, it might not be if your monitored probation period would be longer than the sentence you might otherwise serve behind bars. That’s especially true if a malfunction on the part of the monitor or a minor error on your part results in a probation violation that ends with your being put in jail or prison. That’s why it is important to discuss all of your options with your Vista probation defense lawyer before deciding whether you want to accept probation or incarceration.
Of course, ideally, you won’t be incarcerated or put on house arrest at all, which is something your Vista probation defense attorney may or may not be able to help you with -by seeing if you might be able to completely beat the charges and, if not, then by negotiating the best possible plea bargain with the district attorney. In some cases, work furlough might be a preferable solution to either incarceration or house arrest depending on your situation.
If you have been accused of a crime, please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation with Vista probation attorney Peter M. Liss.
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