Electronic Monitoring Devices Affect Bail Bonds

As the movement for bail bonds reviews reform has pushed to free more defendants from jail, local law enforcement has turned to electronic monitoring as a substitute. The devices — also known as ankle bracelets, ankle shackles or digital tethers — use GPS tracking systems to limit how far a person can go. They’re used by people awaiting trial, on probation and parole, and in immigration proceedings. The number of these devices in use has soared 140 percent since 2005.

These GPS-enabled devices allow corrections officials unprecedented access to the private lives of their wearers and their families. They often have two-way microphones that can record conversations and give authorities the opportunity to “reward” violators for doing what they’re supposed to do (Crowe 2002). This invasive surveillance makes them attractive to agencies concerned about crime, but it may not be the best tool for reducing crime rates.

Moreover, these devices have an outsized impact on poor communities. The fees charged for them — sometimes as high as $10 a day — can cause people to take on second jobs, lose their job, or even cut back on essentials like child care or disability checks to cover the cost of the device. In one study, EMASS clients told researchers they rushed to plead guilty to avoid paying the daily fee.

How Do Electronic Monitoring Devices Affect Bail Bonds?

The companies that make and manage these devices charge the people who are wearing them user fees ranging from $3 to $35 per day plus $100 to $200 in setup charges. This unfairly shifts the cost of incarceration from governments to individuals and their families. A class-action lawsuit in Alameda County argues this practice amounts to extortion.

In addition to the costs of these tier-one devices, many people on supervised release must pay additional fees for services to help them stay out of trouble. For example, they may be required to attend counseling sessions or pay for drug tests. They may be restricted from contacting certain people, including complainants, witnesses and co-offenders. Some are unable to travel outside their home’s short perimeter. These restrictions can prevent them from getting to work or visiting relatives, going to religious services and participating in family life.

Bail bondsmen are a vital part of the criminal justice system, and their business relies on defendants showing up for their court dates. However, the increased use of these devices is making it more difficult for bail bond agents to secure the necessary funds. The fees for these devices can be more than the amount of a bond and some people simply cannot afford to pay them. As a result, they go back to jail. This is particularly problematic for those who are black and subjected to disproportionately high levels of supervised release.