Electronic Monitoring System A Controversial Form of Digital Incarceration

Electronic Monitoring in Pretrial Process

Electronic Monitoring System A Controversial Form of Digital Incarceration

Electronic monitoring is a form of digital incarceration that has gained significant attention in recent years. It involves the use of devices such as wrist bracelets or ankle “shackles” to monitor the location and sometimes the physiological condition of individuals. This technology is commonly utilized as a condition of pretrial release or as a means of post-conviction supervision, including probation or parole. It has also been employed to track juveniles, immigrants awaiting legal proceedings, individuals in drug rehabilitation programs, and those accused or convicted of DUIs or domestic violence.

The Mechanics of Electronic Monitoring

Electronic monitoring devices employ various technologies to track and monitor individuals. These technologies include active or passive GPS tracking, radio frequency monitoring, secure continuous remote alcohol monitoring (SCRAM), and breathalyzer monitoring.

  • Active GPS tracking utilizes satellites to triangulate and transmit location information at set intervals.
  • Passive GPS tracking tracks and stores location information for later download.
  • Radio frequency monitoring is used for curfew monitoring. A home monitoring unit detects the monitor within a specific range and sends confirmation to a monitoring center.
  • Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring (SCRAM) analyzes perspiration to send a blood alcohol content report every hour.
  • Breathalyzer monitoring incorporates a camera and randomly tests a subject’s breath to estimate their blood alcohol content.

The Use of Electronic Monitoring by Law Enforcement

All 50 states in the United States employ some form of electronic monitoring. It is utilized during pretrial or trial periods for individuals who have been arrested but not yet convicted. Post conviction, it can be implemented before or after serving a sentence of incarceration. Electronic monitoring is also utilized for individuals on probation or parole, as well as those under community supervision following time served in jail or prison. Moreover, all states except New Hampshire employ electronic monitoring for juveniles. Immigrants are also subject to electronic monitoring under the supervision of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Despite being a form of custodial detention, not everyone on electronic monitoring receives credit for time served while under monitoring.

Concerns and Issues Surrounding Electronic Monitoring

Electronic monitoring raises a number of concerns and issues that have sparked controversy and criticism. Some of the key issues include:

  1. Excessive surveillance: Electronic monitoring subjects individuals to stringent surveillance, impeding their successful reintegration into the community after incarceration.
  2. Restrictions on movement: Monitored individuals are often required to seek permission before leaving their homes and may have exclusion zones where they are not allowed to go without triggering an alarm. Emergencies can be particularly challenging, as obtaining permission for movement changes may require significant notice.
  3. Financial burden: Individuals on electronic monitoring often face user fees and setup charges, along with the cost of the monitoring devices. These expenses can place an unfair burden on individuals and their families, shifting the costs of incarceration from the government to the monitored individuals.
  4. Impact on employment and daily life: Electronic monitoring can hinder individuals’ ability to attend job interviews, access employment and education, receive medical treatment, fulfill parenting responsibilities, and engage in family and community activities. The strict rules and limitations imposed by electronic monitoring can create challenges in various aspects of daily life, including employment activities.
  5. Disproportionate impact on marginalized communities: Electronic monitoring disproportionately affects people of color, who already make up a significant portion of the correctional and detention populations. The growth of electronic monitoring exacerbates the impact of mass incarceration on vulnerable communities, raising concerns about the perpetuation of systemic racism.
  6. Technical failures and false alarms: Electronic monitoring devices are not infallible and can experience technical failures or trigger false alarms. These failures can result in unnecessary arrests, warrant issuance, and disruptions in individuals’ lives.
  7. Privacy and data security: The use of electronic monitoring involves the collection and storage of location data, which raises concerns about privacy and data security. The ownership and control of this data, as well as the regulations governing its use and retention, are often unclear.

Companies Involved in Electronic Monitoring Technology

Several companies are involved in the production and provision of electronic monitoring devices. These companies include SuperCom, USA Technologies, Sentinel Offender Services, Attenti (formerly 3M), BI Incorporated (owned by private prison group GEO Group), “Libre” by Nexus, and Satellite Tracking of People (STOP) owned by Securus Technologies. Some states contract with multiple electronic monitoring companies, renting different devices.


The use of electronic monitoring as a form of digital incarceration has grown significantly in recent years. While it is employed for various purposes, including pretrial release and post-conviction supervision, electronic monitoring raises significant concerns regarding surveillance, restrictions on movement, financial burdens, impact on employment and daily life, disproportionate effects on marginalized communities, technical failures, and privacy and data security. As the use of electronic monitoring continues to expand, it is critical to address these concerns and ensure that the rights and well-being of individuals subject to monitoring are protected.