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10 July 2020

Should Offenders be Tracked with a GPS Locator?

Criminals are out on the streets. Should you be upset? Maybe, maybe not—it may be a part of future experiments utilizing a GPS locator. The economic debate in California continues to rage, and one possible solution on the table is releasing prisoners.

Incarcerating offenders can be a costly endeavor—in 2007-2008, the proposed budget for corrections in California was $4,061,703,000. According to the Newsletter of the Federal Courts, the costs of correction/incarceration are as follows: for imprisonment: $63.51 daily (per person); for community correction centers, $52.29 daily (per person); and for supervision by probation offers, $9.61 daily (per person). The annual cost for incarcerating an individual in a prison is $23, 183.69. In 2006 alone, $68,747,203,000.00 was spent on correctional facilities, and according to available information, those who are held because they cannot afford bail cost $9 billion per year in housing.

GPS tracking for criminals can cost between $8 and $12 per day. That would be between $2920 and $4380 per person per year, a tremendous savings. An important part of this debate is how GPS tracking actually works. A system of 24 satellites orbits in outer space, working in groups of twos or threes (almost always in groups of threes) to determine the latitude and longitude of the receiver on earth. The receiver can be attached to a person or vehicle. Active systems offer moment-by-moment tracking, while passive systems are a historical log of events. Active systems would be the choice for criminal tracking.

The specific components for criminal tracking usually include a receiver worn on the ankle. According to information on the Heartland Institute website, there is also a removable tracking unit that records violations when communication with the non-removable anklet is cut. While this option is the perfect solution as far as saving money is concerned, there are also other important issues at stake.

Does merely tracking a criminal keep society safe? If we are only tracking petty thieves and non-violent offenders, are the savings worth the risk? If our goal is “punishing” the offender, does GPS tracking really meet the need? What is the motivation for the offender to be on “good behavior” while being monitored? For one thing, the risk of incarceration may not be worth the temptation—possibly one hope of proponents of GPS tracking. Weighing through the issues (both advantage and disadvantages) may take some time, but hopefully as the technology continues to advance, safe and effective means of both cutting expense and securing safety can be achieved through GPS tracking devices.

Greg Bartlett is a guest author who specializes in writing about GPS technology and has earned two master’s degrees.

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