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Electronic monitoring has comes a long way since 1983, when Judge Jack Love, inspired by a Spiderman comic, slapped an electronic monitor on a defendant and sentenced him to house arrest. By the late 1980s, the concept had grown in popularity, but many still had concerns on whether electronic monitoring was a step toward a civilized future or an undesirable invasion of privacy.

Scales of justice

Since then, electronic monitoring has spread rapidly across the country as crowded courts and over-crowded jails required creative solutions. At approximately one-sixth the cost of imprisonment, electronic monitoring is one alternative to jail time, and advances in technology give criminal justice professionals a variety of monitoring systems to choose from. Let's look at a few.

Types of Electronic Monitoring

RF Monitors: The most common monitor is the RF "ankle bracelet." The radio-frequency transmits a periodic signal to a base station attached to a phone line. If the offender gets too far from the receiver, it sends an alarm either to the monitoring contractor or to the probation officer.

GPS Monitors: Offenders can be tracked in real time through a GPS unit either in the ankle bracelet or in a cell phone accessory. Contractors or court service officers can log in and find the offender at any time. GPS can be combined with RF units for extra security.

Drug and Alcohol Monitors: Common in drunk driving and drug cases, the substance monitoring bracelets periodically sample the wearer's perspiration and then run it through a device similar to a breathalyzer. The results are transmitted to the service center and positive results reported to the court.

Cell Phone Breathalyzers: Courts and criminal justice programs also use portable breath-testers to monitor for alcohol usage. The system sends out a call and the client has a limited time to blow into the phone's attachment. The cell phone camera snaps the client's photo to prevent cheating. Results are calculated immediately and transmitted to the contacts programmed into the phone.

The Results

As courts seek to find alternatives to incarceration, especially for non-violent substance abuse violations, electronic monitoring will continue to grow and evolve with technology. At least in Florida, electronic monitoring may be working. In 2011, the National Institute of Justice published a study entitled “Electronic Monitoring Reduces Recidivism” that found "electronic monitoring reduces offenders' risk of failure by 31 percent" in the state of Florida. With these and other studies showing the efficacy of the units, it appears that electronic monitoring may be here to stay.

What is Electronic Home Monitoring? 
Not Just for the Drunk and Famous: Ankle Bracelets That Monitor AlcoholThe New York Times
Electronic Monitoring Reduces Recidivism, U.S. Department of Justice
Brief History of House Arrest and Electronic Monitoring, Northern Kentucky Law Review 
You're Grounded! How do you qualify for house arrest?

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