Prison Reform Task Force Looks at Monitoring

MONTGOMERY — The state of Alabama doesn’t monitor parolees with electronic devices, but could consider it as a way to reduce recidivism and ultimately lower the population in crowded prisons.

“It’s worth pursuing depending on how you determine you’re going to fund it, that’s the question,” said Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster. He’s chairman of the state’s Prison Reform Task Force.

“It’s worth pursuing because what a lot of places have shown is that it reduces recidivism, it keeps (offenders) on the straight and narrow, it keeps them from going places they shouldn’t be going,” Ward said.

It costs about $3 to $8 a day to monitor an offender electronically, Rachel Semago, of 3M Electronic Monitoring, told the task force Tuesday. The price range depends on the level of service, she said.

The company is monitoring 60,000 people worldwide.

She said about half of states who monitor offenders require they pay a fee.

Semago cited a five-year-old Florida State University study of 5,000 medium- and high-risk offenders found that monitoring reduced by 31 percent the offender’s likelihood to fail their community supervision. However, she said, electronic monitoring is less effective on violent offenders.

3M offers two types of monitoring: traditional ankle bracelets that monitor when an offender is at home, and bracelets with GPS.

“(GPS) gives a lot of data; you can start monitoring patterns about where they’re going,” Semago said.

Currently, some counties and city law enforcement use monitoring devices.

Earlier this year, lawmakers passed a prison reform package, including changes to sentencing standards, created by the task force.

The changes seek gradually to reduce crowding in Alabama’s prisons, some of which are about double the capacity they were designed to hold.

In February, new parole guidelines will go into effect.

They’ll be available for public comment in early December, said Robert Longshore, one of three members of the state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles.

He told task force members the new guidelines, along with 100 new parole officers expected to be hired next year, mean that the positive impact on state prisons should be seen sooner rather than later.

“Supervision of offenders stops problems before they become the level where somebody needs to be revoked and go back to prison,” Longshore said.

“Under this (new) system, there will be intermediate sanctions that will let them think about the error of their ways. It’s a good thing.”

Ward said the task force will meet again next month to discuss mental health issues in state prisons.


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