Tag Archives: prison economy

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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Meals Behind Bars: A Reading List

Alcatraz Dining Hall by Carl Sundstrom. (Public Domain)

Food is everywhere — we eat at home, at work, at school, on the go, and while traveling. Many of us are able to eat what we choose, when we choose; for some, deciding what to eat, obtaining it, and preparing is enough of a burden that we’re turning to meal-replacements like Soylent in such numbers that orders are backlogged for weeks. That all changes in jail, where you eat what you’re given — or you don’t eat at all. Among the many freedoms prison limits, where does losing the ability to choose the timing, quantity, and, most importantly, flavor of your food rank? Pretty high.

Three of these pieces look at what mealtime is like on the inside, from an examination of chow hall food to stories of inmates’ ad-hoc cell-made meals to an in-depth look at a commissary food that’s both dietary supplement and currency for thousands of inmates. A fourth adds a different dimension, revealing how some of the foods on our own tables are the product of prison labor.

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