electronic tethers

Absurd Tragedy illustrates inadequacies of Government-run Pretrial Release Programs

The vocal detractors of “money bail” often point to Washington D.C. as shining example of how things could be if we eliminated secured accountable private bail. Sadly, they couldn’t be more right.

In Washington D.C. they release 85% of accused criminals awaiting trial on unsecured bail through such a program. Program administrators claim that a whopping 87% of those released through their bloated government agency actually show up to court, though this figure is highly suspect. Even if accurate, having 13% of all accused criminals not show for trial hardly seems worth bragging about. Any bondsman who had 13% of his defendants on the lam would be looking for a new line of work.

Washington D.C. has tens of thousands of open felony warrants, and of course no one from the Pretrial Services Agency goes out looking for any of them. They do claim to send friendly text messages — which surely has D.C.’s most dangerous fugitives quaking in their boots.

On paper the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia looks fantastic. In return for the hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer dollars ($231,304,986 in 2015) they produce beautiful four-color reports and lofty mission statements like this:

The GPS tracker was attached to the suspect's fake leg.

The GPS tracker was attached to the suspect’s fake leg.

The Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia (PSA) assists judicial officers in both the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and the United States District Court for the District of Columbia by conducting a risk assessment for every arrested person who will be presented in court and formulating release or detention recommendations based upon the arrestee’s demographic information, criminal history, and substance abuse and/or mental health information.

For defendants who are placed on conditional release pending trial, PSA provides supervision and treatment services that reasonably assure that they return to court and do not engage in criminal activity pending their trial and/or sentencing.

PSA supervises approximately 16,000 defendants each year, and has oversight for approximately 4,000 individuals on any given day. PSA’s caseloads include individuals being supervised on a full range of charges from misdemeanor property offenses to felony murder. PSA administers evidence-based and data-informed risk assessment and supervision practices to identify factors related to pretrial misconduct and to maximize the likelihood of arrest-free behavior and court appearance during the pretrial period. PSA continues to improve its identification of defendants who pose a higher risk of pretrial failure, enhance its supervision and oversight of these defendants.

Supervise defendants to support court appearance and enhance public safety. PSA effectively monitors or supervises pretrial defendants to promote court appearance and public safety.

It sounds impressive, right? Of course most jurisdictions would be hard pressed to budget $230 million in order to supervise 4,000 defendants. (It’s nice to be the Federal Government.) Regardless, the Pretrial Services Agency has served the District of Columbia for nearly 50 years and is widely recognized by advocates of publicly funded pretrial release programs as a national leader in the field of pretrial supervision. They regard the Pretrial Services Agency’s “innovative supervision and treatment programs” as models for the criminal justice system.

What does this actually mean when they brag about how well this government program supervises and monitors accused criminals who are released pretrial? According to their own questionable records, more than 13 of every 100 released to their “supervision” abscond. And as for the ones that don’t become fugitives?  How, precisely, are they supervised in order to support court appearance and enhance public safety?

In April of this year, Quincy Green, 44, was arrested in Washington D.C. and accused of gun charges. He was released from jail pretrial through the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia. Green was enrolled in the program’s most restrictive form of pretrial release:  a GPS tracking bracelet. He joined the ranks of some 400 other defendants in D.C. who are awaiting trial and roaming about the capital while wearing a GPS tracker.

On May 19, 2016, Dana Hamilton was fatally shot. D.C. police suspected that Quincy Green was the murderer but the Pretrial Services Agency insisted that Green was confined to his apartment and that the GPS tracker proved he was not in the area where the murder took place. Eyewitness testimony and even sightings of Green by police officers were dismissed because the agency’s GPS data “proved” otherwise.

Finally the police obtained a search warrant based in part on a statement that the “devise barely moved” over the course of three days, something that somehow escaped the notice of the pretrial agency engaged in actively “monitoring” his whereabouts.

Police found the GPS tracking devise in Green’s apartment, attached to his prosthetic leg.

“I don’t understand how someone could put this device on a prosthetic leg,” said Sgt. Matthew Mahl, chairman of the D.C. police union. “It is frustrating for us as police officers to have one of our defendants released, especially when talking about dangerous crime like guns–and then to know that the accountability for these defendants isn’t always up to par.”

The director of the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia said all the right things, of course, including “This is the first instance where something like this has happened, and the results were tragic.”

It’s no doubt the first time they put a GPS tracker on a fake leg but it’s certainly not the first or last time that they release violent criminals with no one held accountable for either appearance in court or public safety. Guess how many employees of the pretrial agency will be fired over the murder of Dana Hamilton? Do you think they will cancel the contract with the private contractor who supplies and fits the GPS bracelets on the accused criminals they release? It’s naive to think that either will happen. Rather, the pretrial releases agency will continue to sell gullible taxpayers and politicians a bill-of-goods, that they safely release and supervise accused criminals.

Imagine the immense indifference and utter apathy required in order to fit a GPS tracker to a fake leg. This is far more than a forgivable lapse or simple mistake. This is the act of a person with absolute security that comes from knowing he cannot actually be held accountable. You would never ever find a bondsman making such a mistake since by definition he or she is accountable.  This kind of couldn’t-possibly-care-less attitude thrives amongst government employees where no one is actually held responsible for what happens. The budget of Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia will not be adjusted one penny following this tragedy. After a flurry of memorandums regarding not fitting the GPS trackers over a sock, the murder of Dana Hamilton will be quickly forgotten.

But it will not be forgotten by the 72-year old mother of the murdered victim: “This was the worst thing that ever happened to me. That man was supposed to be in his house.”

Electronic GPS tethers may reduce jail populations but the other promises — like public safety, reducing jail costs and guaranteeing appearance for trial — are a figment of everyone’s imagination.

 

Isn’t the idea of this technology appealing? Instead of incarcerating people just make them wear a GPS bracelet and “monitor” them around-the-clock. In Wayne County, Michigan, they claim savings of over $20 million annually through this type of program. It’s such a simple concept: just let folks out of jail and put electronic tethers on them instead. You can tether and release rapists, armed robbers, even murderers. Watch the savings mount. It sounds like a good deal, huh? Except the whole hare-brained scheme tends to be a figment of everyone’s imagination.

Ankle-monitorThere is a very good article about the use of these devices here.

First, let’s look at these so-called “savings”. Twenty-million dollars annually is a bunch of jail-issued baloney sandwiches. Where exactly are these savings coming from? Here is how they come up with these fantasy savings of over $20 million annually. On any given day Wayne County lets about 500 accused criminals stay out of jail and instead freely roam about with GPS tethers. As a starting place, Wayne County takes their total jail budget and divides it by the total number of inmates they house in order to come up with a “cost per day” of incarceration. So, they will then claim that it costs, for example, $125 per day to house an inmate. Therefore, according to this twisted logic, upon releasing 500 criminals from jail they can then claim that they are “saving” $62,500 per day. This is where they get their preposterous figure of over $20 million in annual savings.  There is a problem with this claim, however. When they release 500 accused criminals, do they then lay-off any deputies? Do they reduce pensions? Close a wing of the jail? They claim “savings” of over $20 million, but how much does the Sheriff’s budget get reduced? You better believe that it doesn’t. The sheriff’s budget — you guessed it — goes up. So the savings are an illusion.

By the way, it’s only fair to give private bail agents the benefit of the same ridiculous narrative. In such case, when using the same “logic,” every defendant out on private bail also “saves” the county $125 per day — without the costs to the county associated with running a GPS tracking program.

Second, let’s look at public safety and supervision. It’s a safe bet that an accused armed robber in jail will not endanger the public. When we tether him up and let him go, what then? If you think the bracelet on his ankle will protect the public safety, then you are a special type of gullible. In fact, many of these idiots wearing bracelets are later convicted of new crimes because the tether actually proves that they were present at the scene of the crime. A quick Google search reveals that some of these brain surgeons actually rob banks while being “monitored” with a GPS bracelet.  A dirt-bag criminal named Demetrius Edwards was wearing a tether when he murdered Cedell Leverett. His GPS tether flawlessly confirmed his location at the time and scene of the murder.

“A New Orleans program came under fire last year when two 16-year-olds wearing tethers were charged with murdering a Domino’s Pizza delivery driver in an attempted carjacking. A New Orleans inspector general’s report found significant weaknesses in the program including a failure to detail violations, unclear procedures to deal with violations and alerts that were ignored.”

Speaking of being “monitored,” here is the biggest illusion of them all. As a general rule, these GPS units do an excellent job of providing the exact location and time when the bracelet is cut off.  The criminal gets to decide when he would like to no longer be “monitored.” All he needs to do is cut off the tether. It’s true that in theory an alert will occur and if everyone then does their job correctly (a huge “if” here — many times it is weeks before any action on a tamper violation is taken), law enforcement will spring into action and often times be able to successfully retrieve the cut bracelet.  As for the fugitive? Well, they will likely ask the judge to issue a warrant for the fugitive’s arrest and hope for the best. He will undoubtedly be more difficult to locate than the cut bracelet is.

According to the article, this is how these accused felons are actually being monitored:

“A 2013 audit by the Los Angeles County Probation Department found that one in four tethers strapped to serious criminals in the county was faulty. The report cited dying batteries, false alarms and malfunctions that resulted in a failure to report locations of inmates for extended periods.”

Orange County, Fla., suspended its tether program in 2013 after a man wearing a tether while awaiting trial for a home invasion shot and killed a witness in the case and wounded two other people. A review showed the man cut off his device. The county agreed to pay $100,000 to each of the families of the three shooting victims.”

The article goes on to cite Chief Judge Fred Lauten of Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit: “When electronic monitoring was presented to us, it sounded like a great idea.  It sounded high-tech and it was like, ‘wow, we can sort of track people.’ It really sounded good.”

Obviously, the good judge became disabused of the notion that GPS bracelets could somehow prevent violent crimes. “Somehow, in the public’s perception, electronic monitoring became more than it ever really was,” he said.

So in summary:

  • The GPS tethers do not prevent crime
  • They do not protect the public
  • They do not ensure that defendants actually comply with their release conditions
  • They do not ensure or guarantee a defendant’s appearance in court
  • They do not even save jail costs
  • They do reduce jail populations

These gizmos might have some use: if you can’t find the fugitive, maybe you can locate his pet cat.

It would be cheaper and just as (in)effective to do away completely with the pretense of these programs; Simply let these violent criminals out of jail upon a promise to behave and appear in court  when required.

Or, of course, if you are legitimately concerned with reducing jail costs, protecting the public safety and ensuring appearance in court, you can require that the friends and family of the accused post a secured bail bond.

Then let a bondsman do his or her job, at no cost to the taxpayers.