How Useful Are GPS Tracking Devices for Sex Offenders?

While GPS ankle monitors have become a standard feature in California for use in tracking convicted sex offenders in the community, they have come under fire over reports that they are being disabled, often without any legal repercussions.   Due to overcrowding in California prisons, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed historic legislation "realigning" the prison system by transferring parole violators to local jails for handling.   In turn, many of these same jails have eased their own overcrowding problem by releasing offenders into the community with ankle monitors which supposedly restrict their movements.   Unfortunately,  many of thes same offenders have discovered that supposedly foolproof ankle monitors can be easily disabled and that the legal penalties for it can be fairly minor.   A provocative new report by the Los Angeles Times indicates that thousands of convicted sex offenders have been formally charged with disabling their ankle monitors but prison overcrowding prevents them from being sent to jail as a result.  Some of these offenders have gone on to commit further offenses including sexual battery, kidnapping and attempted manslaughter.  

Under ideal conditions, the GPS devices are attached to the ankle with a rubber strap with an alarm going off if any tampering occurs or if the offender gets too close to a school zone.   Though the signal is monitored by a private security firm, policing infractions is a growing problem.

Since October 2011, more than 3,400 warrants have been issued for monitor tampering although the state policy of sending violators to county jails means that few are likely to be reincarcerated for longer than a few days.   In some cases, violators were released within hours of being arrested.   The rise in new warrants has risen by 28% in 2012 alone and the trend is unlikely to change.  Virtually all monitor violators are sex offenders since they are most likely to be fitted with ankle monitors along with repeat offenders and others regarded as being flight risks.    Under a law passed in 2006, all convicted sex offenders must wear GPS monitors for life. 

Parole officers and prison officials are outspoken in describing the lack of real control the correctional system has over offenders in the community.  One Fresno parole officer commented on the enormous problem he and his fellow officers are seeing.  "If the public knew, they'd be shocked", he said.   While members of the California Sex Offender Managemet Board have noted that parolees "certainly are feeling more bold" due to the lack of deterrence, there is little they can do to correct the situation.

Along with the loss of control has been a rise in offenses committed by parole violators.    Convicted sex offender Rithy Mam was arrested three times in two months and was freed almost immediately each time.  After the third violation, he vanished and reappeared in nearby Stockton where he repeatedly menaced a fifteen-year old girl and her thirteen-year old sister.   He was subsequently recaptured and is now in prison awaiting new charges.   Another convicted sex offender, Raoul Levya, was rearrested last year after a brutal assault on his 20-year old former girlfriend.  After laying on the floor of her apartment for days before being found, she is now brain-damaged and confined to a wheelchair. 

Before the current prison realignment,  parole violators could often be held in jail for up to a year awaiting time, now the maximum sentence for parole violation is 180 days.  Despite calls to increase the penalty for monitor tampering to a full three-year sentence, current prison overcrowding makes that impossible to put into practice.  




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