Tag Archives: crime and punishment

When Innovation Fails: Doing Hard Time in the Offender-Monitoring Business

In Bloomberg Businessweek, Lauren Etter explores another problem with the privatization of law enforcement: technology. From scrambled signals and dead batteries to false violations, the electronic ankle bracelets 3M created failed to protect wearers’ civil liberties even though the process used to design them reflected the company’s way of thinking about innovation and experimentation. Unfortunately, creating monitors for human beings involves higher stakes than yellow stickies.

The sheer amount of data generated by GPS-tracking devices creates problems across the industry and in every state, but the number of alerts in Massachusetts has far exceeded the norm, experts say. Documents reviewed by Bloomberg show that in the 12 months ended in October 2015, 3M bracelets produced 612,492 violation alerts in Massachusetts—more than 50,000 per month, from about 2,800 individuals wearing the devices. Almost 40 percent of the alerts were due to a device not being able to connect to the network or the GPS not being detected. Roughly 1 percent of alerts resulted in an arrest warrant being issued. Tom Pasquarello, former director of the electronic monitoring program for Massachusetts, estimates that half those warrants were potentially based on faulty or incomplete data. That would be roughly 3,000 warrants. “There were people that were pulled from their house in the middle of the night, that lost their kids, people that lost their job,” he says.

The problem of glitchy ankle monitors became so pronounced that the Massachusetts probation department set up an after-hours office in the lobby of a Boston police station so offenders could bring in their bracelets when problems occurred or batteries died. In August 2015, Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Heidi Brieger became so frustrated with the devices that she vowed to stop sentencing anybody to them. “It is simply administratively improper to run a system in this fashion,” she said, according to a court transcript. “We don’t lose liberty in this country because somebody’s software is not working. It just isn’t right.”

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Greg Ousley murdered his parents when he was 14, and is now serving a 60-year sentence. A look at the debate over how we should punish minors for committing violent crimes:

Today there are well more than 2,500 juveniles serving time in adult prisons in the United States — enough, in Indiana’s case, to fill a dedicated Y.I.A. (Youth Incarcerated as Adults) wing at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. The United States is the only Western nation to routinely convict minors as adults, and the practice has set off a growing disquiet even in conservative legal circles. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty for juveniles was unconstitutional, and just last month it similarly banned mandatory sentencing of life without parole in juvenile homicide cases.

But in this controversy, Greg Ousley is an unlikely representative for sentencing reform. He is not a 16-year-old doing 20 years for his third drug felony or a 13-year-old who found his father’s loaded handgun and shot a playmate. What he is, or was, is a teenage boy who planned and carried out a crime so unthinkable that to most people it is not just a moral transgression but almost a biological one.

“Greg Ousley Is Sorry for Killing His Parents. Is That Enough?” — Scott Anderson, New York Times Magazine