If Maine wants to help prevent violence against women while potentially reducing the cost the state’s jail system, it should consider legalizing electronic monitoring devices that track offenders as they move about their community.
If instituted responsibly, the ankle bracelets would give judges an additional option besides making someone pay a fine or serve jail time. Depending on the situation, the devices could be ordered for people who otherwise would be in jail as they await their trial, have been convicted or are still considered a threat after serving their sentence.
States differ on how they implement their electronic monitoring laws, but having the option is key. Maine should take seriously its current opportunity to review the benefits and drawbacks of the rules elsewhere and then develop its own law. The devices are worn by about 100,000 people in the U.S. and 60,000 people in the United Kingdom.
Gov. Paul LePage recently agreed to match with contingency money an $18,000 donation in order to fund a task force to look into electronic monitoring devices, bringing the total for the study to about $36,000. The private donation came from the proceeds of a 5K race in Dexter held in memory of Amy Bagley Lake and her children, Coty and Monica, who were murdered by Lake’s estranged husband.
The outpouring of local support for the research of tracking devices should be a signal to lawmakers that people want meaningful change. Input from a number of groups and state departments will be needed, including the Department of Public Safety, Department of Corrections, Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, Maine Civil Liberties Union, the attorney general’s office and Maine State Police.
Ultimately Maine will need to decide what type of device will work best in urban and rural areas, whether offenders should have to pay for the devices, in what circumstances they should be offered, how much work will be created for surveillance officers and how anticipated savings will impact jail staff. It will be important to ensure that the system does not create a false sense of security for victims, who should be fully educated about how the process works.
Electronic monitoring can be paired with home detention to reduce or eliminate the amount of time certain offenders spend in jail. They may be allowed to work and therefore contribute to society. A 2006 study found the devices also avert additional crimes, with monitored offenders 94.7 percent less likely to commit a new offense than offenders who were not monitored.
The overall cost of the devices will depend on how many are used, but they are a cheaper alternative to jail. The price per person per day to have a monitor is $4.50, according to Houston-based Satellite Tracking of People LLC, which sells devices in every state but Maine and three others. It costs roughly $150 per day to house one general-population inmate.
Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, proposed a bill to legalize electronic monitoring last session, but it was defeated in committee when LePage’s bill to amend the bail code was introduced. But Fredette plans to submit another bill, based on the findings of the task force’s study. It’s a worthy effort.