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September 21, 2014

HOT BLAST: Another way to look at prisons in America

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Posted: Monday, June 30, 2014 12:00 pm

Alabama's overwhelming problem with its state prisons has brought the topic of incarceration -- how to do it, how to pay for it, how to reduce it -- to the top of the discussion heap this summer.

But what if we didn't need most of our prisons?

Folly? Probably. The United States is addicted to its political and judicial ideas of locking up convicts for long periods of time. Alternative sentencing efforts often gain little widespread traction. Our prisons are bloated because of it.

Nevertheless, researchers at the data website Vox.com have put together a compelling reason for why we should use GPS monitoring for all but the most dangerous people in jail.

That may sound crazy to those who believe jail is the best way to punish and control the criminally guilty. Yet,  there may be other options to consider:

According to Vox.com, "Researchers have tested electronic monitoring as an alternative approach to parole, probation, or other criminal punishments that fall short of imprisonment — and it's been a huge success. An Urban Institute analysis found that electronic monitoring reduces odds of re-arrest by 23.5 percent relative to traditional probation, and a randomized study in Switzerland found major advantages to electronic monitoring compared to mandated community service. Results from a Swedish trial in which prisoners were offered early release under electronic monitoring were similarly promising. The threat of electronically-enforced house arrest appears to provide a strong deterrent effect; when Santa Fe County, New Mexico started threatening drunk drivers with home confinement if they failed to install ignition interlocks (which prevent a car from starting until the driver passes a breathalyzer test), installation rates skyrocketed.

"The most intriguing evidence comes from Argentina, where Harvard's Rafael Di Tella and Torcuato Di Tella University's Ernesto Schargrodsky found that electronic monitoring cuts recidivism nearly in half relative to a prison sentence. That raises the possibility that electronic monitoring could be more than merely a supplement to prisons. It could replace many of them. The program evaluated used something a bit less technologically sophisticated than GPS tracking. Offenders wore an ankle bracelet which transmitted a signal to a receptor in their home. If the signal is interrupted, or the device appears to be manipulated, or the vital signs of the individual are not being transmitted from the bracelet, then the receptor calls it in."

-- Phillip Tutor

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