ankle bracelet
Ankle bracelets for convicts are becoming more popular. Is that a good thing? Center for Media Justice

It’s no secret that America has a prison problem. More than $80 billion is spent every year to lock up more than 2.2 million people, many of them serving hard time for minor crimes including nonviolent drug offenses.

It’s only natural, then, that people within the criminal justice movement have begun calling for more “alternatives to incarceration.” Programs like these include halfway houses, rehabilitation centers, and, more recently electronic monitoring.

However, these so-called “alternatives” have the potential to cause more problems than they solve.

In an extensive report published today by the The Center for Media Justice, criminal justice researcher James Kilgore dives deep into the world of electronic monitoring, those iPod-sized ankle bracelets worn by people awaiting trial.

On its very basic surface, Kilgore says that placing a non-violent offender on an electronic monitor might seems like a better alternative to jail time. But as he concludes in his research, the rush to slap ankle bracelets on convicts “typifies the search for a quick fix to a complex problem.” Specifically, Kilgore lays out all the ways in which electronic monitoring can -- and has been -- misused and abused.

Perhaps the worst, Kilgore writes, is that a lack of government regulations have led “unscrupulous prison profiteering companies” that force convicts to pay for their own tracking.

Such was the case of Antonio Green, a South Carolina man profiled by the International Business Times in September who was forced to pay $300 per month for his own tracking. Last year, Green was charged with driving under a suspended license. And as a condition of his bail, he was required to wear an ankle bracelet as he waited for his trial date. After months went by waiting for his trial, Green -- who lives on a monthly $900 disability check -- decided to just plead guilty and go to jail, simply because it was cheaper.

Green’s case is just one illustration of how, without proper controls, an electronic monitoring industry can be misused by government and for-profit companies, Kilgore writes.

“Without careful consideration of these buiding principles, electronic monitoring runs the risk of becoming a punitive, virtual incarceration, the costs of which will be borne by the persons on the monitor and their loved ones,” he says .

The full report can be found here.