Wednesday, February 23, 2011

GPS monitoring for sex offenders

Proposed DPSCS Regulations not the "Silver Bullet" State Legislature hopes they will be.

Convinced that GPS monitoring is the answer to the sex offender problem, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is proposing implementation of new regulations to the Maryland General Assembly to control sexual offenders by GPS and other measures.Currently, 23 states use GPS to monitor some sex offenders while they're on parole. The devices, outfitted on an ankle bracelet, are typically placed on offenders considered at high risk of striking again. However, the use of GPS monitoring -- embraced as a simple technological solution for tracking the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders -- is proving to be something less than a silver bullet for state and local public safety agencies.Advocates behind the DPSCS proposed regulations, moreover, make no distinction between habitual offenders at high risk of striking again, worth having their every move tracked electronically once they're out of prison, and the felons who have served their time and present no apparent threat to public safety in the eyes of the court. Just put a GPS device on all of them, DPSCS and certain state legislatures say, forever.A simple solution if one ignores that there are an estimated 600,000 registered sex offenders in the United States. Without a doubt, the proposed DPSCS regulations are symptomatic of a national tide of fear about sexual predators lurking in the bushes by the playground, at the mall, just on the other side of the elementary school fence, and skulking about on MySpace. The reality is the vast majority of registrants are not predatory, and don't pose danger to strangers, which is the only common sense reason GPS would be useful.

Understanding GPS Limitations

In an ideal environment GPS can be very accurate, but in difficult topography or in bad weather, tracking errors and signal loss can disrupt accuracy and consistency. Maryland's legislature needs to be better and more fully informed so there's not a rush to use GPS simply because they think it's like "LoJack." Indeed, GPS limitations must be understood, and it must be used correctly to be of any benefit. Satellite technology is not effective and the influence of adverse weather and other interferences with the system pose problems -- particularly with cell tower issues -- where there are certain points the GPS signal can bounce off cell phone towers and points it cannot. And this last can occur whenever an offender ventures out of the satellites' range by entering dense urban locations or indoor places like a large mall, building, stadium, or even outdoors in a canyon-like environment, like Baltimore. Simply put, you can walk into a building and you lose satellite reception. All of us have experienced this at one time or another with our own cell phones. This, of course, then results in a false alarm -- which can number in the thousands in some jurisdictions, straining manpower and casting doubt on the viability of GPS as a tracking tool for high-profile felons. Nor is this last point without merit. A 2007 legislative study in Arizona found more than 35,000 false alerts by 140 subjects wearing the GPS-monitoring devices. Conversely, in Washington state, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs opposed legislation in 2006 to expand the use of GPS based on their experiences with faulty readings when offenders moved inside steel buildings, tunnels or outside when it was snowing. Then there's the question of how already-taxed law enforcement will be deployed to monitor all this data on hundreds of people who aren't even on parole. While the proposed DPSCS regulations require the offender to pay for the actual system -- it fails to address the costs incurred by law enforcement response. These false alarm costs would run in the tens of millions in as little as 10 years and pose an even greater deficit to the state budget.

Understanding the Crime

As a society we need to become less hysterical and more informed about sexual offenses and sexual abuse. When we demonize the offenders, we're pretty much feeding the crime. We further isolate and alienate the offenders, which can serve as a precipitating factor in some offenders' impulses to act out. We further compound this by grouping or lumping all sexual offenders together in the state registry without distinction of crime. We're so focused on the minority of offenders who seem to fit our skewed perceptions of what sexual abuse and sexual abusers should be, we fail to recognize that the crime actually occurs closer to home.

Crimes committed by sexual predators are a serious problem -- and this article doesn't mean to underplay this fact when case after case shows children are ther victims of most sex crimes. Two-thirds of the victims of sex crimes are under age 18, and 58 percent of those underage victims were under age 12, according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics. Yet the majority of those victims aren't preyed on by strangers but know their attacker. Indeed, most sexual crimes committed against children happen closer to home and involve somebody whom the victim knows and trusts, like a family member or a neighbor. In 90 percent of the cases, child victims knew their attacker. And almost half the time that person was a family member. The vast majority of offenders abuse kids whom they know and either have close relationships with the children or the children's families.But the incessant emphasis on the boogeyman, the sexual predator in the schoolyard or on the Internet, can be counterproductive, as resources to fight sexual crimes, and public perception of them, are misplaced. GPS devices only serve to fuel the hysteria that all registrants are predators. Would not the funds DPSCS wishes to spend monitoring felony sex offenders not be put to better use by law enforcement in proactive programs for offenders that aim to prevent recidivism as opposed to programs which are purely reactive once the crime has been committed?

Understanding the Deterrent Effect

The obvious question therefore is: Will wearing a GPS device make a sex offender less likely to strike again? The research is spotty, simply because no one has been wearing the devices for the decades that the new DPSCS regulations propose. However, according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, and contrary to popular belief, sex offenders are significantly less likely than other criminals to be rearrested. Despite this, DPSCS has decided: Why should 24-hour electronic monitoring end with parole? Even after offenders have legally paid their debt to society, DPSCS still wants to track their every move, regardless of their risk for recidivism.

The most that can be said about GPS monitoring in this context, then, is it's viewed as a panacea by its advocates and will prevent future crime. It isn't and it won't simply because common sense dictates the most GPS monitoring can do is tell where an offender is or has been -- but not what they were doing or whom they were with. Thus, it will have little or no impact on preventing crimes and serve only to promote a false sense of security within the community.In sum, the proposed DPSCS regulations are yet another example of feel-good legislation to get communities to feel that actual action is being taken by the state to stem the problem. GPS monitoring and residency requirements are not going to do anything with the vast majority of offenders. The simple truth of the matter is: A person intent on committing any type of crime will do so regardless of the consequences.

Understanding the Constitutional Implications

As Maryland rushes to impose harsher penalties on sex criminals, critics -- legal and criminal analysts, and even some victims of sex crimes themselves -- state that the punitive new regulations and laws violate civil liberties and are ineffective. And while a technological fix like fastening GPS devices to former felons may make the public feel safer, it will do little to protect the children who are the victims of most sex crimes. Beyond a doubt, if the Maryland General Assembly should decide to impose the device on all felony sex offenders -- whose crimes were committed before the proposition passed -- it would run into serious constitutional problems.

As a threshold point, the ex post facto clause in both the U.S. and state constitutions means that the government cannot impose a greater punishment for a crime than was allowed when that crime was committed. Thus said, the state cannot pass a law which increases the punishment for past acts. And this last holds particularly true when applied to Tier III offenders -- where it is tantamount to giving them a life sentence. Secondly, offenders may also be able to argue that being constantly monitored on GPS also violates their Fourth Amendment right, not to be subject to unreasonable search and seizure. Slapping a GPS bracelet on someone who is not on probation or parole could be considered seizure. The government simply has no authority to take somebody off the street, who has already paid his debt to society, served his time, and force him to wear a tracking bracelet. Aside from the 4th Amendment implications of this regulation, its passage by the General Assembly would raise a number of questions about the applicability of existing laws and judicial precedent to uses of new technology, particularly those that involve geo-location information. A state law that prolonged monitoring of user movements could constitute a search and, if performed by a government entity, therefore fall under the provisions of the 4th Amendment, especially where being forced to wear the device while in the privacy of one's home could also be considered a search - and in numerous cases violating both the offender and spouse's privacy.Likewise, the proposed DPSCS regulation requiring 21 days advance written notice, with documentation, any time an offender leaves the state and to show up in person 3 business days before departure to confirm travel plans runs afoul of the Constitution's Commerce Clause by interfering with offenders engaged in interstate commerce activities. And, it need not be pointed out, such violations would serve to further implicate First Amendment as well. In sum, the proposed draconian DPSCS regulations will raise some very important issues about what the state may do to an essentially free person.

By Michael & Sandra Kennedy

Saturday, February 19, 2011

House Bill 594 GPS Monitoring for Sex Offenders in the State of Maryland

Hi Everyone! I know I haven't written for a long time but you knew I would once I had another fight on my hands. I sent the letter below to Norm Conway State rep of Maryland and Mike Lewis, sheriff of Wicomico County. You may copy and paste my letter to use if you decide to write to your representative to let them know that you do not approve of their supporting this bill. It is a major fight for us all. I am asking everyone to get involved. If anyone out there has had any experience with the GPS monitoring, please write and let me know. I need all the ammo I can get. As always, if I use your story, I will keep you anonymous. Thanks all. God Bless and hope all is well with you.

I am writing to ask you not to support the GPS program for Sex offenders. I have done much research and found that the states that are using it, are not calling it a success. In Arizona, during the first year of using the GPS program, 140 sex offenders wore the GPS monitor. In that 1st year, there were 35000 false alarms from those GPS monitors. Of course, law enforcement did not know that they were false until they had had take the time to investigate them. That was an extra 35000 calls that the sheriff department had to go investigate. In Texas, a child sex offender testified against the use of the GPS program stating that while he was wearing the monitor, a child came to his home (though not in his case, it could have been a girl scout selling cookies). Law enforcement was unaware that the offender had a child in his home since the alarm does not go off if a child is near. In several other states using the GPS program, the courts have several law suits where the families of sex offenders are suing due to their violation of privacy. The GPS program uses cell phone towers for their location. As you are much aware, many areas around Salisbury are dead zones. Since the use the cell towers, many environmental factors would interfere: heavy wind, rain, snow; tall ,dense trees, low lying areas, buildings that houses machinery or steel; etc. THE GPS MONITORING SYSTEM WOULD NOT HAVE PREVENTED THE SARAH FOXWELL TRAGEDY. For one, Leggs was a Tier II and would not have been wearing one. He could have removed it or simply stayed in the dead zones. The GPS monitors are being placed on Tier III. Studies have shown that Tier III, the offenders who have spent the longest time in prison, also have the lowest recidivism rate. A few of the Tier III have had convictions greater than 20 years and have never done another crime of any kind. Studies also show that the longest the time between the original conviction and without any further criminal actions, have the lowest recidivism rates. Do you really want all these additional problems for Maryland? I think not. I can guarantee that there would be several of those law suits in the courts for evasion and violation of privacy. I am sure there will be more than several, since when one is filed...others will decide to do the same. Do you really want the MD courts to be swamped with cases from the family and friends? Do you really want law enforcement to have to go out on 35000 extra calls to investigate the GPS alarms? How can you justify the raising of taxes for a program that has been proved a failure by many other states? How would you be able to look another mother or father in the face and tell them that "No, the GPS monitor hasn't given us any useful information as to where your child is." Please do not make this a law that is passed just because it is another one of those "feel good" laws and will gain you more votes during the next election. I see it back firing when the program fails and you loose those votes. Or when several of officers are on a possible false alarm call and they didn't make it on another call to save someones life who was in real danger.

Thank you for listening. I hope all of you decide not to support the GPS program.