The office of sheriff is “anachronistic,” unaccountable to the public, and should be replaced with a more professional county police department, says a new study published in the Virginia Law Review.
The office of sheriff is “anachronistic,” unaccountable to the public, and should be replaced with a more professional county police department, says a new study.
“There still must be a county law enforcement agency to serve unincorporated municipalities where they exist,” argues the study, published in the March 2018 edition of the Virginia Law Review.
“However, the twentieth century was a story of policing becoming more professionalized, and counties have increasingly found that a professional, dedicated county police department is a better organization to handle law enforcement than a jack-of-all-trades sheriff.”
The study, written by James Tomberlin of the University of Virginia School of Law, said local sheriff’s elections provide minimal accountability since so many incumbents run unopposed.
Quoting former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca’s response to a question from a citizens’ commission about how he could be held accountable for misconduct— “Don’t elect me”—the author noted that since at least 1932, no incumbent has ever been unseated in Los Angeles County, which hosts the largest sheriff’s department in the United States.
The office of sheriff dates back to the 9th century in England. Even as the power of the office declined after the 13th century, it was given new life in colonial America—and eventually became part of the myth of the West, where upright sheriffs helped tame a lawless frontier.
Today, there are a little over 3,000 sheriffs around the U.S., and their departments employ 352,000 personnel.
While elections nominally make sheriffs accountable to the public for their actions, in practice, voter turnout in local sheriffs’ elections is low, the study said, noting that in rural counties, most qualified replacements for the sheriff would be one of the sheriff’s immediate subordinates, making him or her less likely to want to run against their boss.
Adding to the challenge of public accountability, policing often involves “one-off” discretionary decision-making, which is harder to observe and review than public policy decisions made by politicians.
Municipalities or county governments are currently helpless to affect the conduct of their sheriff’s offices, wrote the author.
Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Caricature by DonkeyHotel via flickr
The study cited the conflict in 2008 between the small Arizona town of Guadalupe and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio who became notorious for his sweeps of local residents suspected of being undocumented immigrants.
Arpaio responded to the mayor’s complaints by saying, “If you don’t like the way we operate, you get your own police department.” But when the mayor said she would consider doing that, Arpaio “raised the stakes two weeks later, stating that he intended to cancel the town’s contract. “
The author contrasted that with Connecticut’s decision to abolish the officer of sheriff following a political battle. He quoted a comment by then-State Rep. Michael P.Lawlor, who said it’s “not a good idea to run a professional agency on a political basis. “
The study advocates merging county and city policing agencies into one department.
After the state passed a criminal justice reform plan, the opioid crisis struck and lawmakers toughened sentences on drug trafficking. The prison population has begun to expand again and officials are trying to avoid reopening three shuttered private prisons.
By 2009, Kentucky had become a poster child for ineffective and unsustainable mass incarceration, its prison system growing at quadruple the national average despite a consistently low crime rate. Two years later, the Kentucky legislature passed a landmark law aimed at lowering the state’s prison population. For several years, things went well. Meanwhile, Kentucky struggled in the grip of the opioid crisis. Desperate to respond, the state legislature toughened sentences on heroin and fentanyl trafficking. For this and other reasons, the prison population began to explode again, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Since 2007, 35 states have reformed their sentencing and corrections policies, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, and states like Kentucky have been at the forefront.
The process has been slow and difficult in the Bluegrass State, however. From prosecutors and public defenders to judges, legislators, and the conservative governor, nobody wants to build more prisons. Getting all those stakeholders to agree on what to do instead is proving just as challenging. “There is certainly resistance from many stakeholders in the criminal justice community, and it’s understandable,” says John Tilley, the state justice secretary and a former Democratic state legislator who helped drive reform efforts here in 2011. The state is on track to fill every single prison bed in the state by May 2019, despite a contingency plan to reopen three shuttered private prisons. If no significant changes are made, the prison population is projected to grow by 19 percent over the next decade at a cost of $600 million, according to a recent report from a working group organized by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. “We’ve got to think of ways to mitigate that kind of damage,” adds Tilley. “We have to give the legislature policy options to begin down this path again.” The Monitor takes a close look at how Kentucky is trying to control its prison population.
According to a report from the New York Civil Liberties Union, white defendants were more than two times more likely to be released on the same day bail was set than black defendants.
A report by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) found that in eight of New York’s 62 counties, some 100,000 people spent time in jail between 2010 and 2014 because they couldn’t afford cash bail; and of these pretrial detainees, over 60 percent were eventually charged with misdemeanors or violations.
Until now,”the scope of the state bail problem outside of New York City has not been well understood,” said the report, released Tuesday.
The report was released ahead of Wednesday’s “day of action” in the state capital, where several organizations are gathering “to advocate for comprehensive criminal justice reforms, including fixes to New York’s bail, speedy trial and evidence-sharing practices,” writes the NYCLU.
Using records obtained through public record requests, the NYCLU analyzed bail data from eight small, medium and large counties in the state.
More than 5,800 New Yorkers were held on bail for violations only, most commonly for harassment, disorderly conduct, or trespassing. 41 percent of detainees charged with one of these violations were held on bail that exceeded the maximum fine they could be required to pay if found guilty.
According to the report, white defendants were more than two times more likely to be released on the same day bail was set than black defendants.
“While black and white New Yorkers each accounted for 45 percent of pretrial detainees who spent any time in custody after bail was set in their case, 48 percent of those who spent at least one night in custody were black compared to 41 percent white, and 50 percent of those who spent at least one week in custody were black compared to 38 percent white,” the study said.
NYCLU data was collected from Albany, Dutchess, Monroe, Niagara, Orange, Schenectady, Ulster, and Westchester counties.
This summary was prepared by TCR Deputy Editor Victoria Mckenzie. Readers’ comments are welcome.
Calls for greater independence of the FBI in the wake of concerns about the Trump investigation are misguided, says a University of Louisville law professor. He argues those who worry about presidential interference should support creating a separate federal crime agency while keeping its counterintelligence functions answerable to the president.
The best way to ensure the independence of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from the president while maintaining civilian control is to split the agency into separate organizations for criminal investigation and national security, argues a paper published in the George Washington Law Review.
Calls for the “independence” of the FBI, particularly in the wake of controversy connected with President Donald Trump’s efforts to halt the investigation into his campaign’s connection with Russia, are “misguided and dangerous,” wrote Justin Walker of the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville.
Although Walker writes he is not advocating splitting the agency, he says that those worried about presidential interference in the FBI’s criminal investigation should consider such a move instead of trying to make the “entire agency independent,” which he warns would violate the principle of civilian control of the military.
Giving such blanket independence to the FBI would threaten civil liberties and undermine the warnings expressed by the Founding Fathers about a military outside of civilian control.
“Just as distinct political, religious, and ethnic groups were often targeted by the armies whose abuses in Britain and the colonies caused the founders’ skepticism of standing armies, so too for individuals and groups targeted by the FBI,” wrote Walker.
The article details the history of civil liberty infringements associated with the FBI’s national security efforts, through the early 20th century to the post 9/11 world, listing abuses such as “illegal and warrantless wiretaps, buggings, burglaries, destruction of files, and harassment of political minorities, the gay community, and African-Americans.”
While the author also extols the FBI’s achievements, he notes that keeping the agency accountable to the president and congress is essential.
“The FBI director should not think of himself as the Nation’s Protector,” Walker wrote. “Instead he must think of himself as an agent of the president. Of course like any military officer, he should give candid advice and like any military officer, he should not obey illegal orders.
“But he must not make the mistake of (former) Director J. Edgar Hoover and view himself as an independent force who can decide for himself what practices to pursue, what politics to embrace, and what commands from the president or attorney general to obey.”
Walker warned, “When the FBI is independent of the president, it is independent of us—and of anyone.”
The article says splitting the agency into two separate units –one for criminal investigations and one for security—“would be consistent with the principle of civilian control of the military,” and follow a model used by other countries such as the United Kingdom, where MI 5 is in charge of counterterrorism, counterintelligence and domestic intelligence; and New Scotland Yard is responsible for criminal investigation.
Walker said the 9/121 Commission came close to recommending such a reform.
But the effort failed after “extensive lobbying” by then-FBI Director Robert Mueller, who currently heads the probe into the Trump campaign.
Recent prison reforms in Texas and across the country have failed to reverse, or even slow, the rate of women’s incarceration, says the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. In a report released Friday, the group calls on policymakers to address the “root causes” of women’s involvement in the justice system with counseling and diversion programs. instead of putting them in jail.
Women have been left out of the national focus on justice reform, even as the number of incarcerated females has increased, according to a Texas advocacy group.
A report released Thursday by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition says that even as the state has reduced its male prison population, the female incarceration has grown.
“Because women comprise only a small portion of the overall incarcerated population, their needs are largely disregarded in larger criminal justice reform conversations,” said Coalition executive director Leah Pinney in her introduction to the report. “Most of the programs that exist within and outside the criminal justice system are geared toward men.
“With little data on who these women are or how they became entangled in the system, it is not surprising that recent reforms in Texas and across the country have failed to reverse, or even slow, the rate of women’s incarceration.”
The report, written by Lindsay Linder, says the state corrections system currently holds more than 12,000 women, the majority of them imprisoned for non-violent offenses.
Even as Texas reduced its male incarcerated population by over 8,500 between 2009-2016, the number of women behind bars increased by 554 during that time–representing an increase from 7.7 percent to 8.5 percent of the total number of incarcerees, the report said.
The report also noted that the number of women in Texas jails awaiting trial,
totaling around 6,300, has grown 48 percent since 2011, even as the number of female arrests in Texas has decreased by 20 percent over the same time period.
Linder proposed gender-specific support, treatment and diversion options that address the “unique” circumstances that can bring women into contact with the justice system, such as physical or sexual abuse, mental health issues and substance-use disorders.
“These improvements will hold women accountable while helping them heal and allowing them to remain in their communities and with their families—essential steps to improve public safety and reduce costs associated with incarceration,” she wrote.
In a survey of 400 incarcerated women, the organization found that nearly 60 percent said they suffered from sexual abuse or assault as a child and more than half said their household income before taxes was less than $10,000. More than 80 percent were mothers.
The group urged emphasizing pretrial diversion programs for non-violent crimes, especially for pregnant women or those with primary custody of a child, and investing in support programs at the community level to help women deal with trauma before being introduced into the criminal justice system.
It also recommended specialized treatment for women on probation or with substance abuse issues and reforming the bail system to help women in poverty.
Responding to the paper, State Rep. James White, chairman of the House Corrections Committee, said his committee would examine the problems, The Texas Tribune reported.
The 2014 measure, which reclassified as misdemeanors many nonviolent crimes that formerly were felonies, has been called the “biggest criminal justice experiment in America.” A study by criminologists from the University of California-Irvine refutes critics who say it has endangered public safety.
When California voters reclassified many nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors back in 2014, law enforcement officials warned that crime rates would rise as a result.
When some types of crime did increase in 2015, some law enforcers argued that a large drop in felony arrests throughout the state had emboldened criminals.
They also contended that drug and theft offenders who formerly were jailed pending trial were receiving just citations and orders to appear in court after Proposition 47 passed, and that few actually showed up for their court dates.
Proponents of what was known as Proposition 47 argued that it was a good way to reduce the state’s prison population, which had long been criticized for preventing many inmates from getting adequate health care.
Authors of what they call the first thorough study of Proposition 47’s impact say they have refuted the police contentions.
“Proposition 47 has been blamed for rising crime in California since it took effect in 2014, yet no research has evaluated this claim,” wrote criminologist Charis Kubrin of the University of California Irvine and her student Bradley Bartos.
“Using a novel method of policy analysis to compare crime rates in California pre- and post-Proposition 47, our findings suggest that the blame is misplaced.”
To meet the challenge of analyzing the causes of crime increases in the state in 2015, the year after Proposition 47 was approved, Kubrin and Bartos say they “constructed a synthetic control group to approximate California crime rates had Proposition 47 not been enacted.”
They explain that what they call a “synthetic California” was a weighted combination of other states’ crime rates that closely matched California’s for 44 years from 1970 to 2014.
The criminologists found that crime rates in the combination of states that resembled California but did not have a new law like Proposition 47 were about the same after the California measure passed.
That indicated that Proposition 47 did not cause the California crime trends, Kubrin and Bartos concluded. The trends held true for several categories of serious crime, including homicide, rape, assault, robbery and burglary.
California’s combined prison and jail population peaked at about 256,000 in 2006. Since then, it has dropped by about 55,000.
A primary reason was a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2011 that found that conditions in many prisons violated the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Contributing to the decline were Proposition 47 and a major policy shift ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown after the high court decision that involved sending many state prisoners back to their originating counties, where they could be jailed or released under supervision.
Criminologist Joan Petersilia of Stanford University termed the Brown prisoner “realignment” plan “the biggest criminal justice experiment ever conducted in America.”
Proposition 47 allowed California’s counties to reduce imprisonment time for low-level offenses and increase it for serious crimes.
The study authors conclude that while reform opponents “routinely cite rising crime rates as ‘proof’ that Prop 47 is harming public safety, prompting repeated calls to repeal the measure,” Brown’s realignment and Prop 47 “have shown us we can, in fact, downsize our prisons without comprising public safety.”
The researchers say that “crime rates going up (or down for that matter) tell us nothing about the source of those trends, and studies such as this one are necessary to determine any link between criminal justice reform and crime rates.”
The full study will be published this summer in journal Criminology & Public Policy of the American Society of Criminology.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.
Persistent malfunctions in the electronic tracking devices worn by released Wisconsin inmates are prompting some experts in the state to question whether lifetime GPS monitoring is fair, effective, and worth the cost.
Cody McCormick spent much of the past seven years incarcerated or on probation after being convicted of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct in Minnesota.
Since he had his supervision transferred to his home state of Wisconsin in late 2016, McCormick has been repeatedly thrown in jail. He lost a job. And he continues to be disturbed by corrections officials calling him — sometimes in the middle of the night.
McCormick says these barriers to reintegrating into the community stem from a GPS ankle bracelet, which he was not required to wear in Minnesota but is required by Wisconsin to wear for life. As of January, Wisconsin monitored 1,258 offenders on GPS devices at an annual cost of about $9.7 million.
Five years after the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism documented serious problems with the state’s GPS monitoring program for offenders — false alerts that have landed offenders in jail, disrupting family lives and causing them to lose jobs — inefficiencies and inaccuracies with the system remain, according to state and county records and 16 offenders interviewed for this story.
Such problems have led some law enforcement and other officials to doubt the program’s ability to ensure public safety and assist offenders in reintegrating into their communities.
Since the Center’s 2013 report, the cost of the program and the number of offenders under monitoring have roughly doubled. Lawmakers never followed through on calls to study the system in the wake of the Center’s report. State officials have been unable to produce records of any evaluation of the system’s reliability or effectiveness.
In this current report, the Center found numerous service requests and complaints related to bracelets failing to hold a charge. In February, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill that would make it a felony for anyone on GPS monitoring to intentionally fail to charge his or her bracelet.
The state is drawing up a new request for bids for GPS monitoring equipment. Lawmakers are considering extending the length of the contract from three years to seven to entice additional bidders. Bill sponsor Rep. Ed Brooks, R-Reedsburg, said the current vendor, Boulder, Colorado-based BI Inc., is planning a 50 percent price hike unless the contract is lengthened.
McCormick, 29, said his troubles with GPS monitoring began soon after being fitted with an ankle bracelet in February 2017. Records show the BI Inc. tracker was not communicating with the Department of Corrections’ Electronic Monitoring Center in Madison because of poor cellular reception at his grandmother’s house, where he lived in rural Monroe County.
And even though police found him exactly where he was supposed to be, McCormick was taken to jail for about three days. As a result, he lost his job at his family’s restaurant.
Cody McCormick. Photo by Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
Ten months later, McCormick was incarcerated again, this time for five days. Records from the Sparta Police Department show the arrest stemmed from McCormick allegedly being located next to a library — a zone off-limits for him — for an hour. McCormick said he only drove past it; his roommate, who was driving with him, affirmed this version of the incident.
McCormick’s difficulties persisted. This January, McCormick was briefly jailed on a warrant for allegedly tampering with the bracelet. A police report said McCormick showed them he had not tampered with it. He was later fitted with a new bracelet. Officials did not charge him with a crime — although tampering is a felony offense.
“It’s not just the people who are on monitoring devices (who are affected),” McCormick said. “It’s their family, their jobs, their social life.”
McCormick’s story illustrates broader flaws with Wisconsin’s GPS monitoring program, which relies on both cell phone and satellite service to track offenders.
The Center reviewed data from a single month, May 2017, to more deeply explore the large volume of alerts being triggered by Wisconsin’s monitored offenders. In all, Wisconsin offenders in May generated more than 260,000 GPS alerts, 81,000 of which corrections officials sorted through manually.
The review found:
The state monitoring center lost cell connection 56,853 times with 895 offenders — or an average of about 64 times per offender, according to DOC records.
Most offenders on monitoring across the state experienced loss of satellite signal, generating 32,766 alerts — half of which were serious enough to be investigated.
Of the 52 arrest warrants issued by the DOC monitoring center, service request records indicate 13 involved offenders whose equipment was having technical problems around the same time.
DOC employees submitted 135 requests for technical problems with GPS tracking devices— 93 for charging or battery issues with ankle bracelets, 12 for signals lost, 14 for false tamper alerts.
Other records showed:
Several offenders have been jailed between one and three times since 2013 for what DOC records indicated or they reported were technical malfunctions.
Since January 2015, DOC has filed 1,360 reports when offenders damaged, lost or absconded with DOC-issued equipment, including GPS equipment, sobriety monitors and home-confinement monitoring. An examination of a portion of those reports found at least 89 offenders had evaded GPS monitoring for some length of time, subverting the program’s goal of enhancing public safety.
Some offenders claim their GPS shows them to be in places they are not or that they are arrested for tamper alerts when their devices’ ankle straps wear out.
Tech Glitches Put Public ‘In Imminent Danger’
A 2017 examination by the University College London and Australian National University of 33 studies on electronic monitoring effectiveness worldwide found one of the most frequent barriers to success was technological problems, including equipment malfunction, loss of signal or power, battery failure and inadequate broadband capacity.
California replaced half of the state’s ankle bracelets after testing showed that brand, 3M, was so inaccurate and unreliable that its use put the public “in imminent danger.” In 2013, a Los Angeles County audit found one in four of its bracelets had defective batteries or excessive false alerts.Massachusetts replaced all 3,000 of its GPS bracelets in 2016, citing poor cell coverage. A 2015 investigation by Northeastern University journalism students in Boston had found wrongful arrests caused by GPS false alerts.
Wisconsin DOC officials said the benefits of the program outweigh any technical drawbacks. Spokesman Tristan Cook noted that the program is aimed at public safety.
“GPS tracking provides a deterrent effect since offenders know they are being tracked and allows the department to review an offender’s location history to aid the prosecution of any crimes or identify supervision violations,” Cook said.
BI Inc., which supplies the ankle bracelets and other monitoring equipment, declined to answer questions about reported problems with the technology.
Technology does continue to improve, however, and states are aggressively increasing the number of offenders on GPS.
According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, 88,000 offenders were strapped with GPS bracelets in 2015 — 30 times more than the 2,900 offenders who were tracked a decade earlier. Wisconsin had a daily average of about 1,500 offenders on tracking in 2017-18 — a nearly 10-fold increase from 158 offenders in 2008-09.
Some experts say GPS monitoring can be a useful tool in providing structure, reducing recidivism, allowing offenders to work and lowering costs compared to incarceration. But technological problems can get in the way of those benefits.
Mike Nellis, editor of the Journal of Offender Monitoring, believes that GPS monitoring in the United States has taken on a punitive approach that hampers offender reintegration. The journal focuses on monitoring technology and its use in enhancing public safety.
“If (offenders) are trying to reintegrate themselves … to suddenly find yourself carted back to prison for something that is in no way your fault seems to me to be quite an unnecessary disruption in the life of an offender — and quite at odds with good practice in reintegrating them,” Nellis said.
DOC has the authority to detain offenders on monitoring for up to three work days while it investigates violations, although extensions may be granted.
Cecelia Klingele. Photo courtesy University of Wisconsin-Madison/Wisc Center for Investigative Journalism.
Cecelia Klingele, a University of Wisconsin-Madison associate law professor who specializes in correctional policy, said DOC is put in a difficult position when it knows some, or even many, of the alerts it receives are caused by equipment malfunctions. But she argues the agency should investigate such alerts with minimal harm to the offender, especially in the case of false alerts.
“Even short periods of jail are highly disruptive and can cause a person to lose his job, be unable to care for children, or even lose stable housing,” Klingele said.
‘It’s a Wilderness Up Here’
Some officials in law enforcement and the judiciary who deal with Wisconsin’s GPS program have seen false alerts firsthand and have reservations about the program.
“It’s wilderness up here,” Price County Sheriff Brian Schmidt said of his county in northern Wisconsin. “When you’re dealing with that, you’re dealing with cell coverage issues. DOC needs to recognize those things. County taxpayers pay for these issues.”
Schmidt recalled an incident in which he refused to detain a GPS-monitored offender with a warrant because it appeared to stem from a device malfunction.
“If there’s a violation, I understand, but if … you find a gentleman in bed, and the monitor is failing, even though I have the (apprehension) request, I’m less likely to put that person in jail,” Schmidt said.
DOC sees it another way.
“There is no such thing as a ‘false alert,’ ” Cook said. “If the monitoring center is not able to successfully resolve an alert, an offender is taken into custody to protect the public and comply with state statutes requiring continuous tracking.”
Judge James Morrison of Marinette County, a sprawling, heavily forested county on the Michigan border, said concern about the reach of GPS tracking in rural areas was one factor that led him to reject the placement of a sex offender in July.
“It’s just common sense that we’re not getting a tremendous amount of protection out of this system,” Morrison said.
Nellis said when states conflate GPS monitoring with public safety, they are “giving the public quite excessive expectations at what GPS is capable of.”
Research shows that at least two-thirds of sexual assaults are perpetrated by individuals known to the victim — family members or acquaintances — not by strangers who might visit common GPS exclusion zones such as schools, day-care centers or parks.
Morrison regularly sees offenders remove their ankle bracelets to evade monitoring in Marinette County. This reflects the Center’s findings, which show at least 36 offenders since January 2015 have illegally removed their devices.
Given the sprawling size of Marinette County — 1,400 square miles — and the three to four officers on hand to patrol it, responding to GPS apprehension requests would take too long to be effective, the judge said.
“(If) somebody cuts off their GPS monitor and decides they’re going to go bash in the skull of a witness in a case against them, what kind of protection do we get?” Morrison said. “They’ve (the monitoring center) got to tell our cops. Our cops are 70 miles away.”
Such is the case in records obtained by the Center. They show it can take days or even weeks for DOC or the police to locate errant offenders, especially if they are homeless or have removed their bracelets.
Other states, weighed down by excessive alerts, have seen tracked offenders commit serious crimes when officials delay in responding to alerts. In one case in Colorado, officials took five days to respond to a tamper alert from a paroled white supremacist, who had killed two people, including the then-head of the state’s Department of Corrections.
In Germany, an offender on electronic monitoring fled the country to join ISIS. *A Kenosha offender removed his GPS bracelet and was found by police knocking on the door of his victim.
The Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) cannot always determine remotely whether alerts signify a technical issue or legitimate violation; they sometimes jail offenders while they investigate the alleged violation.
For instance, in May, DOC received 14 alerts for strap tampers — a felony in Wisconsin and seen as one of the most severe violations — that ended up being false alarms after no evidence of tampering was found upon inspection, a review of DOC records showed.
On the other hand, offenders can commit serious crimes without generating any alerts at all.
In July 2016, for instance, four offenders, three on electronic monitoring, allegedly sexually assaulted a 17-year-old girl at a halfway house near Madison. The crime was not detected because the three monitored offenders were right where they were supposed to be.
Spurred by the high-profile kidnapping, rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl in 2005, Florida began requiring lifetime GPS monitoring of certain sex offenders, and California, Wisconsin and other states followed.
But evidence is mixed on whether it prevents new sex crimes.
Recent studies show that electronic monitoring combined with traditional parole methods and treatment could lower rates of arrests, convictions and returns to custody. But a University College London study speculates that any positive effects may be due to increased compliance with treatment programs, not the monitoring itself.
Other studies show that even if GPS does produce some benefits, it may not be worth the cost.
Susan Turner, a professor of criminology, law and society at University of California-Irvine, has studied California’s GPS monitoring program. Turner argues such systems do not provide much benefit for the cost.
In a 2015 study on California’s GPS program that she co-authored, Turner found the system does reduce recidivism, but only for administrative violations such as failure to register as a sex offender, not for criminal sex and assault violations, where recidivism is already “very low.”
“I think they (lawmakers) had the tail wagging the dog,” Turner said. “They hadn’t really thought through what exactly they hoped to accomplish by putting it on, other than just saying we got the GPS on the sex offender.”
In her paper, Turner concluded that “although knowing the whereabouts of sex offenders is important, the cost of monitoring sex offenders on GPS may outweigh these benefits.”
In another Turner study from 2012, she found California’s program cost $4,600 per year more per high-risk sex offender than for those not on GPS because it takes more agents to keep up with the constant monitoring.
About 96 full-time equivalent staff work at the DOC’s electronic monitoring center in Madison to investigate GPS alerts, notify agents or law enforcement of violations and pursue arrest warrants when necessary.
Warrants are issued when an offender allegedly removes his ankle bracelet or otherwise absconds from supervision, misses curfew or spends too long in an “exclusion zone” such as a park or school.
Offenders interviewed by the Center say they generally have experienced fewer malfunctions as time passes. Jessa Nicholson Goetz, a Madison-based criminal defense attorney, said that technological improvements have largely resolved the malfunctions her clients experienced.
Still, problems do remain.
Arrested for a Malfunctioning Bracelet
James Morgan, a sex offender profiled in the Center’s original report who was jailed for alleged GPS violations at least eight times between 2011 and March 2013, has been arrested three times since then for alleged GPS violations. DOC records show that one time was for a lost signal, which was not Morgan’s fault. In another case, Morgan said, his bracelet malfunctioned.
If found guilty of violating the terms of his monitoring, Morgan, 58, could be returned to prison for years. That prospect keeps him up at night.
James Morgan, pictured with his wife and daughter, wears a GPS ankle bracelet for life after having spent 26 years in prison for sexual assault and other crimes. He has been arrested several times due to GPS problems. Photo by Coburn Dukehart /Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
“I could potentially never walk out,” Morgan said as his daughter, Angela, and new wife, Rachel, listened beside him. He thinks about that every time he is arrested, Morgan said.
“He’s not going to be the same when he comes back,” Angela chimed in. “Even if it’s for 48 hours. How do you give me my father back — but not really?”
For corrections departments, however, creating more tolerant policies comes with risk. In New York, where officials set up a program to notify them only if an alert lasted for more than five minutes, an offender evaded monitoring and raped a 10-year-old girl and killed her mother in 2013.
The system’s ability to accurately locate offenders in rural areas, where cell service is poor, also can be spotty.
Several offenders told the Center they have received repeated phone calls from the monitoring center or their probation agents asking them to regain a signal or informing them they are located in places where offenders claim not to be.
David Bay, a sex offender on GPS from Ashland County, has been arrested three times on probation violations since 2013. He claimed the problem was with his monitoring bracelet. Bay said he is afraid to stray too far from the beacon at his home.
“My signal is so weak I spend very little time outside because if they lose me, they just come and get me. I’m in there two to three days for what? For nothing,” the 69-year-old Bay said on the phone from his home in Glidden.
Battery malfunctions are widely reported, according to DOC records. Of the 93 service requests submitted in May for battery problems, some were for batteries that failed to take a charge or drained within a few hours. BI Inc., the device manufacturer, advertises that its devices can hold a charge for up to 80 hours.
When GPS bracelets lose their charge prematurely, offenders who are outside of their homes must race to find a place to gain a charge, or face jail time.
“When they go dead, they go dead fast,” said Steven Nichols, 48, of Whitehall. “You’ll notice the battery gets hot and burns my leg and takes two hours to charge. … I once charged it fully and drove to Eau Claire (a 50-minute drive), and it was beeping that the battery was dead.”
Offenders say new devices take around 30 minutes to charge. But Jason Wolford, a 37-year-old offender on lifetime GPS and off of probation, said he has spent up to five hours sitting in one place to charge an older unit. GPS service requests show reports of charging taking up to seven hours.
After the Center’s 2013 report on troubles with Wisconsin’s GPS program, lawmakers requested a study on the reliability of the technology, but it never happened.
Former state Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan, who co-chaired the Joint Legislative Council in 2013, told the Center that the study died for lack of interest, failing to gain support among 90 suggested studies that session.
On an early August evening with the summer sun setting behind them, McCormick, his fiancé Breanna Kerssen and a friend hauled up from his grandmother’s basement boxes of clothes, an oscillating fan and a used canvas that Breanna hoped to paint over someday.
They carefully placed everything into two aging Acura sedans and drove down a winding country road to an apartment in Sparta where McCormick hoped better cellular reception would give him a life less interrupted by the corrections system.
The apartment, a shabby second-floor walk-up, was only four miles from his grandmother’s. For McCormick, it might as well have been 4,000 miles.
“I was tired about getting phone calls (from the monitoring center),” McCormick said as he surveyed his new yard. “Here, I don’t have to worry about that as much.”
McCormick’s optimism, it turns out, was misplaced.
In addition to two more arrests since moving to Sparta, the monitoring center called McCormick in October when he came within half a block of a liquor store, which is one of his exclusion zones. Another time, he had to return home early from helping with his grandmother’s fall yard cleanup.
The monitoring center said it could not gain a signal.
The nation’s most populous county is embarking on an overhaul of its juvenile justice system that could in the long run, all but end the practice of arresting and prosecuting youth under 18, except for the most serious crimes.
Los Angeles County—the birthplace of heavy-handed police tactics like S.W.A.T. teams, helicopter patrols and gang injunctions—is embarking on an effort that could make the nation’s most populous county a model for using a lighter touch with juvenile offenders.
Late last year, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved a sweeping plan that will make diversion the centerpiece of the county’s juvenile justice system, and could in the long run, all but end the practice of arresting and prosecuting youth under 18, except for the most serious crimes.
“This is a huge sea change and represents a whole new era in dealing with youth, especially youth of color,” said Peter Espinosa, a former Los Angeles County Superior Court judge who is leading the effort.
Espinosa heads the new Division of Youth Diversion & Development, which county supervisors created within the Department of Health Services when they approved the plan last November. The department is tasked with designing a program that will ultimately serve all 46 police agencies within the county borders, including the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the juvenile probation division, and the many smaller police departments within the county borders.
County health officials cite so-far unpublished U.S. Department of Justice figures that show youth arrests have plummeted in Los Angeles County over the past decade –from 56,285 in 2005 to 11,399 in 2016.Yet they estimate that in as many as 9,000 of those 2016 cases, young people could have been offered a diversion program had there been proper resources in place.
The only offenses not eligible for diversion under the plan are felonies committed with a firearm and serious juvenile crimes which the state Welfare and Institutions Code has declared ineligible for diversion. That includes: assaults that result in serious bodily injury, robbery, rape and sexual assault, kidnapping, murder and attempted murder, and several other violent felonies.
“We are trying to emphasize prevention and we don’t believe the most effective solution is incarceration,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who first proposed the plan in early 2017 and shepherded it through the county supervisors’ vote in November.
“We believe that is better for the young person involved as well as better for taxpayers.”
When Ridley-Thomas mentions taxpayers, he is alluding to the estimated $233,000 it costs to house a young offender in one of the county’s juvenile lockups for one year.
Espinosa acknowledges that bringing the plan to fruition “will be a heavy lift,” especially when considering the current state of diversion in the county. While there are diversion programs operating now, they exist in pockets of the county and are inconsistently offered.
Youth advocates have long complained that whether a juvenile is offered diversion depends on where in the county he or she is arrested, and the color of their skin. A number of studies have shown that white youth in Los Angeles and elsewhere are far more likely to be offered diversion than youth of color. Because the new diversion plan will cover the entire county, officials and advocates are optimistic that it will help reduce these disparities.
Despite the daunting nature of the undertaking, there is a palpable excitement for the plan in law enforcement as well as among youth advocates.
“It’s been a thrill to watch it unfold,” said Robert Ross, president and CEO of the California Endowment, which has invested heavily in efforts to limit youth incarceration. Because the LA system is so large, we think the direction they are headed in will have national implications.”
Breaking New Ground
Ross and others say the plan is groundbreaking because it prioritizes pre-charge diversion, meaning that a youth alleged to have committed a crime will be diverted before being booked and fingerprinted. This means that as long as he or she completes a diversion program, there will be no record of the arrest.
This is crucial, youth advocates say, because studies have shown that any contact with the juvenile justice system, even just an arrest and one court date, makes a child less likely to finish school and more likely to become further ensnared in the system.
While advocates have long pined for pre-charge diversion, it’s traditionally been a deal-breaker for many in law enforcement who have feared it would remove an important crime deterrent. But successful large-scale diversion programs in a handful of other places, such as Miami-Dade and San Francisco counties, have suggested that those fears are largely unfounded.
High-level officials in the LAPD have bought into pre-charge diversion thanks to a five-year-old partnership with Centinela Youth Services, a local nonprofit focused on youth and community development.
The program started in the LAPD’s South Division, with officers referring 49 pre-charge cases to Centinela in 2013. Since then, the program has expanded to a dozen divisions, with officers referring 254 cases to Centinela in 2017, according to Cmdr. Jeffery Bert, the LAPD’s Risk Manager.
And though those cases represent a small fraction of all juvenile arrests by LAPD officers during those five years, the recidivism rates opened a lot of eyes.
The recidivism rate for youths who go through the county’s juvenile justice system without the offer of diversion is between 30 percent and 60 percent, Bert said.
Meanwhile, the rate for youth in the Centinela program has hovered around 11 percent.
“This program has really blossomed for us in the past two years,” Bert said. “We believe in it and would like to see its smart expansion.”
The LAPD’s experience notwithstanding, advocates say getting system-wide buy-in for the pre-charge model was an uphill battle, and likely wouldn’t have happened had they not elbowed their way into the development process, starting in March 2017 when a committee established by the supervisors began meeting to design the plan.
“Usually system change is driven by county players and law enforcement, and it gears too much toward suppression and a hammer-only approach,” said Kim McGill, an organizer with LA County’s Youth Justice Coalition.
“If we didn’t push hard and bring four or five young people to every meeting, we wouldn’t have gotten this plan.”
One young person who joined the lobbying effort is Tanisha Denard, who was charged with petty theft and sent to juvenile hall as a 16-year-old after getting caught stealing personal hygiene items from a store in South Central Los Angeles.
In an interview, Denard, now 23, claimed she hasn’t been in any trouble with the law since, and that she stole the items because her mom was in the process of losing her house to foreclosure and she didn’t want to burden her with more expenses.
But her record has been a severe hindrance as she’s tried to get through college.
“For a long time, it held me back as I tried to find jobs and pay for college,” said Denard, who is currently attending Long Beach City College. “I would do good in the interviews, but then it would come to the background check and they’d say your background didn’t pass…if I’d gone through diversion I’d be at a university by now.”
Sheila Mitchell, who heads the county’s juvenile probation division, said she was excited to see the groups that in past haven’t seen eye-to-eye come together.
“Fundamentally and philosophically, we need to help our children do well, and help them avoid the path that takes them deep into the juvenile justice system,” Mitchell said. “The beauty of this undertaking is all hands are on deck—courts, law enforcement, supervisors, and community-based organizations.”
Finding the Money
Over $26 million has been budgeted for the plan, which will be phased in over four years. Mitchell is being credited for offering up nearly half of the funding from her budget in the probation department.
Advocates characterize the $26 million as “a good start,” but add there is concern as to whether the county will dedicate the resources necessary to build capacity within community-based organizations that would sustain a countywide diversion program over the long haul.
“The county has invested a lot of money in blue ribbon panels and task forces in the past, but unfortunately they often sit on the shelf and collect dust,” said McGill of the Youth Justice Coalition.
“So, it will take the same vigilance and united effort among county players and [community-based organizations] that we’ve had so far to make sure this plan is implemented.”
County officials say they’re confident they’ll be able to find other funding for the program, including state grant money. And they are counting on charities to provide increased funding to community organizations that will serve the diverted youth.
“There’s a lot of energy for criminal justice reform in the philanthropic community,” said Ridley-Thomas, who gave the opening remarks to a crowd of more than 300 at the Youth Diversion & Development Summit, held March 1 at the Carson Community Center.
“I think charities are already stepping up because they want to see certain kind of results.”
Ross of the California Endowment said his institution is dedicated to helping to make the plan work, so much so that he showed up and spoke at the supervisors’ meeting when the plan was approved. But he cautioned against expecting too much from philanthropies, adding that the largest pool of potentially available money is the billions in taxpayer dollars currently being spent on California’s “incarceration infrastructure.”
“I think the philanthropic community will be emboldened and bolstered should the LA County plan go forward,” Ross said.
“We see our role and supporting the development and evaluating the effectiveness of the approaches. But it’s the public and taxpayer dollars that will be the main driver of change – the philanthropic money won’t be able to save the day.”
The Crime Report is pleased to co-publish this story with the California Health Report, a statewide nonprofit news service that covers health and health policy. David Washburn is a San Diego-based journalist who has worked at the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Voice of San Diego and Dateline NBC. In recent years, he’s focused on issues related to juvenile justice and school discipline. He welcomes readers’ comments.
A pilot project launched by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office in Texas uses “telepsychiatry” software to give police who encounter mentally troubled individuals an alternative to incarceration.
Some sheriff’s deputies in Houston have been using a new tool to respond to calls that involve mentally ill individuals.
In December 2017, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office in Houston, Tx., began equipping deputies with iPads as part of a pilot program aimed at developing new forms of intervention for mentally ill individuals who become involved with law enforcement.
The first phase of the program, involving three deputies, has now been completed, and participants say it’s a success.
“We wanted to make sure the technology works, the software works, and the concept works, and it worked perfectly,” Dr. Avrim Fishkind, CEO of JSA Health Telepsychiatry ,and one of the pilot program’s partners, told The Crime Report.
JSA Health provided the psychiatrists for the program, while Cloud 9, an Austin-based tech company, developed the software, named Cloud911.
Under the program, when deputies equipped with tablets arrive on the scene of a mental health emergency, the person in crisis is offered the option of talking to a psychiatrist through the Cloud 911 app on the deputies’ iPads.
These sessions are called “telepsychiatry appointments,” and they typically last 20 minutes.
A patient uses an iPad for a “telepsychiatry appointment.” Photo courtesy Harris County Sheriff’s Office
By the end of the session, the clinician makes a recommendation. Medication may be prescribed on the spot and picked up by a first responder if deemed necessary. Sometimes, no meds are necessary and a situation is deescalated enough for police to leave the scene.
If the clinician or first responder finds it necessary to take the distressed individual to a psychiatric hospital because de-escalation failed, the Cloud911 app can locate a facility with an available bed. This cuts down on time as officers no longer need to find out which hospital has availability.
The program’s organizers say this enables police to get back to their beat faster, and enables individuals experiencing mental health episodes to avoid arrest.
“One thing we learned very quickly is that people adapt to the technology very fast, the officers and patients,” Dr. Fishkind said. “I’ve done interviews with the patient lying on the ground who held the iPad and talked to me like it was nothing.
“So one of the best parts is the adoption of the technology is nearly 100 percent. We’ve had almost no refusals during the pilot.”
Frank Webb, Harris County’s Mental Health and Jail Diversion Bureau Manager, admitted the program faced initial skepticism among some mental health professionals.
“We did have some who said, ‘oh you know, if you have someone who’s psychotic, they’re not going to use it because they’re going to be freaked out by it,’ and that was not the case at all,” he told The Crime Report.
Dr. Fishkind provided one example of the interactions he witnessed during the course of the pilot program, between officers and a mother whose adolescent daughter was depressed and suicidal.
“She had tried to get in to see a psychiatrist but was told it would be a couple weeks, and here she is in her house talking to a psychiatrist because the deputy had the iPad and she could direct access him right there in her house,” he recalled.
According to statistics provided by Cloud 9, “10 percent of 911 calls are mental health crises, which ought to be handled by clinicians, freeing up police and avoiding tragedies. Fifty percent of jail inmates have mental illness, making jails the largest mental health facilities in the U.S. The cost of incarcerating mentally ill citizens is five times what community health treatment would cost, and this costs emergency rooms and jails annually $2.1 billion.”
Dr. Fishkind noted that the money saved by diverting mentally troubled individuals from jail had helped sell it to county officials concerned about the strains on their budget.
According to Webb, additional money might be forthcoming from the county and even other sources “because they see the value” of the program.
The county’s Center for Mental Health, along with Intellectual Disabilities and Autism Services, the Local Mental Health Authority, together have applied for a grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), under its Law Enforcement and Behavioral Health program. The community health organization would provide additional funds for phase two, Webb said, but he added “we’re going to do phase 2 regardless.”
The next phase, expected to last six months, would provide tablets for 25 deputies.
John Ramsey is a TCR news intern. Readers’ comments are welcome.
Since the Parkland FL school shooting, nearly 800 threats have been recorded against schools around the US. The spike in threats has underlined a growing debate about whether designated officers–some of whom may be armed–can improve school safety.
Will more school resource officers help deter tragedies like the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Fl.?
This often-overlooked role in law enforcement is under the national glare like never before, the New York Times reports. Calls for additional school resource officers, a position that is a hybrid of counselor, educator and cop, have increased since the Parkland shooting, and perhaps no other job better personifies shifting ideas about schools, policing and safety.
The pressure has increased with reports since the shooting of nearly 800 threats against schools. The Educator’s School Safety Network, which tracks reports of school threats and violent incidents, counted 797 as of Sunday. Most (743) were for threats of various kinds, including gun and bomb threats. The threats were made mostly via social media (331) and verbally (119), the Associated Press reports.
That amounts to about a sevenfold increase in the usual rate, said the network’s Amy Klinger.
The number of school resource officers exploded in the community-oriented policing wave of the 1990s. As of 2013, about 30 percent of schools had a resource officers. But as budgets tightened, their ranks thinned.
Now there are calls for installing more of them in schools, with new positions announced in many districts last week.
“They have to be a mentor — a kind, caring, trusting adult, the nice police officer who will give you a high-five and ask you how your day is going,” said John McDonald, school security chief for Jefferson County, Co., which includes Columbine. “And very quickly they have to become a tactical cop. That switch is not for everybody. The ability to do that is very difficult.”
Fifteen students in a Florida school district are facing felony charges and prison time for making threats since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre.
“Kids make bad decisions and I think that in decades past those decisions would have been addressed behind closed doors with the principal and parents,” said Ken Trump of National School Safety and Security Services. “Now they’re being addressed behind closed doors in the police station and the courtroom.”
The Volusia County Schools system in east-central Florida isn’t taking chances.
Sheriff Michael Chitwood made it clear he had a zero-tolerance policy as threats began after Parkland. He said students or their families would have to pay the costs of the investigations, at least $1,000 and sometimes much more.
This summary was compiled by TCR staffer Megan Hadley. Readers’ comments are welcome.