With authorities increasingly trying to find realistic solutions to jail crowding, ankle monitors are more popular than ever. But those court-ordered to use any type of ankle monitor are hardly living the easy life. Even so, this alternative to incarceration is still generally better than going to jail or prison.
Ankle Monitors in San Diego
In San Diego County, the County Parole and Alternative Custody Unit (CPAC) uses electronic ankle bracelets to monitor the GPS locations of those sentenced to jail who have been permitted to serve their time under home detention or a work furlough program. Some of these devices may also be fitted with alcohol-monitoring devices. CPAC only supervises someone whose job and residence are 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.
SCRAM (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor) ankle bracelets are also frequently used in California courts to keep tabs on those awaiting trial for alcohol-related offenses, most commonly DUI charges. These devices are sometimes court-ordered in place of bail increases for these cases. Occasionally, a defense attorney may have a client facing charges for a DUI or other alcohol-related crime be fitted preemptively with an alcohol monitor before charges are filed to show that they are serious about refraining from drinking. Unlike the electronic monitors used by CPAC, SCRAM ankle bracelets are operated by a private company.
If someone wearing a SCRAM device is convicted of a DUI or other alcohol-related offense is convicted and sentenced to probation or house arrest, the SCRAM device will be removed and be replaced by a San Diego county CPAC monitor.
The Benefits of Ankle Monitors
The most obvious benefit of electric monitoring is that it allows programs like CPAC, which enable people in San Diego to avoid being stuck behind bars. Depending on the specific rules they are bound by, those on house arrest may be able to go to work, go shopping and otherwise live their lives as they normally would with a few restrictions. Even those required to stay in their homes can still enjoy the comfort of their own beds and the ability to see friends and family at will, luxuries they would never enjoy behind bars.
For society, sentencing offenders to house arrest through the use of ankle bracelets can save taxpayers millions over incarceration costs while still providing taxpayers a sense of security, knowing these types of devices ensure the wearers are closely monitored.
GPS and SCRAM Ankle Bracelet Problems
Despite their many benefits, the technology used by electronic monitoring systems is still subject to error, and these system bugs can have life-changing consequences. In a real-life example, Wisconsin sex offenders required to wear ankle monitors while on parole constantly report the devices’ GPS systems failing, providing their parole officers with false data 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.
Adding to the problem is that the device’s batteries must be charged daily. If someone forgets to charge it, or if the battery begins to fail, it sends a signal to their probation or parole officer, which could result in the wearer being sent back to prison. A massive power outage could be a serious problem for someone on the CPAC electric monitoring program in San Diego.
Even when the device works perfectly, wearers can still have problems when they must go somewhere in an emergency without their parole officer’s permission. A Wired story details the experience of one person arrested for visiting the hospital after cutting his hand. Those sentenced to house arrest are not allowed to remove their ankle monitors, even for emergency medical procedures like MRIs or CT scans that cannot be performed with the devices on. In fact, many people who have undergone emergency medical care have been required to attend a probation violation hearing as a result of EMTs cutting off their ankle monitor while they were on probation.
How Much do Ankle Monitors Cost?
Those sentenced to wear a GPS ankle monitor as part of their agreement with CPAC San Diego are not required to pay for the devices. On the other hand, those ordered to wear an ankle monitor as part of a pretrial agreement must pay for their SCRAM devices themselves, though these fees are based on a sliding scale based on income. The average setup fee for a SCRAM ankle bracelet in San Diego is between $50 and $200, and users must also pay up to $500 a month. Those awaiting trial must pay these fees rather than bail, but whereas those found innocent will get their bail money back, the costs for SCRAM monitors are non-refundable.
From the government’s perspective, while these devices may be less expensive than locking prisoners up, purchasing and upkeeping the devices, as well as arresting and 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. Attorneys often use this fact to argue that their clients accused of non-violent crimes should be allowed to be released without an electronic monitoring system.
Can You Have a Job While Under Electronic Monitoring?
If your pre-trial, probation, or parole agreement says you can leave home for your job, you can do so. Because they must pay for their own electronic monitoring, many people wearing ankle monitors have to work just to avoid staying out of jail or prison.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get a job when simply wearing ankle monitor informs potential employers that you are facing criminal charges or have already been convicted of a crime. Even an employer who is not bothered by employees having a criminal background may still be bothered by hiring someone who cannot vary their routine without potentially risking incarceration.
Additionally, if you are accused of violating the terms of your release agreement (even if the problem was actually the result of a tech glitch), you may have to wait behind bars for your upcoming hearing, which could cause you to lose your job.
What Rules do You Have to Follow While Fitted With an Ankle Monitor?
Aside from the specific terms outlined in your CPAC pre-trial, probation, or parole agreement, you must follow a few other rules if you are undergoing electronic monitoring in San Diego. For example, you cannot take a bath, swim, or otherwise submerge the device —though you must continue to shower because your skin must be clean to make proper contact with the device. You must also upkeep your device and regularly recharge its batteries. Perhaps the most important rule is that you cannot tamper with or attempt to remove your ankle monitor.
The Best Solution is True Freedom
Going through the ankle monitor program is generally better than being locked up. But that’s not always the case if an ankle monitor malfunction or a minor error on your part results in a probation violation that results in you being sent back to jail or prison. Always discuss your options with your San Diego criminal defense lawyer before deciding whether you want to accept the terms of probation or a pre-trial release program with CPAC or serve your time in an institution.
With a skilled attorney at your side, you can ideally beat the charges and avoid being incarcerated, sentenced to probation, or put on house arrest with an electronic monitor. If you have been accused of a crime, please contact Peter Liss at (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free consultation.