BANGOR, Maine — The Maine Department of Corrections has 150 electronic monitoring bracelets that have sat idle for nearly a decade because officials said using them was less efficient and effective than hoped, according to a department spokesman.
But a bill signed by Gov. Paul LePage in June opens the door for implementing a newer, cost-effective technological system that will keep tabs on some offenders to protect their victims.
The radio frequency monitoring systems were culled around 2005 because they proved less useful than the state’s corrections department had hoped, department spokesman Scott Fish said Thursday. Fish said that he didn’t know the cost of the 2004 program and did not provide it by Thursday night.
“[The DOC] just reassessed them,” Fish said. “[Monitoring systems] didn’t live up to their expectations and the solution was to find a better way to track people who needed tracking through other models.”
The state let its contract with BI Inc., a Colorado-based developer of corrections monitoring technologies, expire after 2004 and gave up electronic monitoring.
Instead, the state opted to focus on a “containment model” to keep track of its felons, offenders and parolees, Fish said. For example, if a sex offender is released on probation, conditions will be set in which the offender will have to call or meet a probation officer, check in with a therapist, or report for alcohol and drug tests. These conditions typically are set on an individual basis.
State and federal agencies across the nation monitor at least 100,000 sex offenders, parolees and people free on bail or probation using either radio frequency or GPS ankle bracelets, according to a recent Associated Press investigation. The AP asked Fish how many bracelets the state had in use and and how many people had been caught in violations because of those devices. Fish responded that there were none.
The AP found that many states are overwhelmed by the number of alerts coming from these systems, and sometimes take days to act, if they notice violations at all.
Radio frequency monitors generate an alert when a wearer strays from a fixed location, such as their home, but don’t give a fix on their new location. More advanced GPS units can track the wearer’s position. Both will trigger an alarm if they’re cut off.
Officials had a number of problems with those radio frequency systems, Fish said. They couldn’t determine a person’s whereabouts. For every alarm, many of which were false, the state had to figure out what agency was responsible for responding to the alert.
“Who’s hired to monitor all these things and who’s hired to respond to them?” Fish asked.
The method was unwieldy, causing officials to shift toward less technological enforcement options.
“They just became very labor intensive,” he said, adding, “It was an interesting idea, but trying it in practice was like, ‘Yikes.’”
While the state gave up radio frequency monitoring in 2005, federal probation officials in Maine did not, in spite of the fact that sequestration cut monitoring funding by 20 percent this year, according to Karen-Lee Moody, chief of U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services in Maine. Federal officials currently monitor 27 people in Maine using a variety of technologies, including 14 via radio frequency (at a cost of $3.18 per day), six by GPS (at a cost of $4.69-8.95 per day), five by transdermal alcohol detection — a bracelet around the ankle that monitors whether a person has consumed alcohol (at a cost of $6.96 per day), according to Moody.
The 20 percent funding cut for the programs left federal probation services nearly $58,000 short, but the agency “realigned resources to continue funding the location monitoring program this year,” Moody said.
The federal government expects location monitoring of these 27 people in Maine to cost just under $14,000 for pretrial and just under $27,000 for post-conviction cases in fiscal year 2013, according to data provided by Moody.
Federal bracelets drew media attention last year after former state drug prosecutor James Cameron cut off his bracelet and fled the state. Cameron had been convicted of possession of child pornography in 2010. He was apprehended less than a month later in New Mexico.
House Republican leader Ken Fredette of Newport said Thursday that times and technologies have changed since 2004, and he argued that the state and potential victims could benefit from reviving monitoring efforts with newer technologies.
Fredette, lead sponsor on a bill recently passed into law that sets up funding and rules for electronic monitoring of defendants in domestic violence cases, said Thursday that the state shouldn’t shun devices for monitoring offenders in the future based on past concerns with technologies when the systems were more expensive at the time and less advanced.
“It think that the technology is changing almost daily,” Fredette said. “Other states are doing things, this is a situation in which Maine, quite frankly, is catching up.”
In June, Gov. Paul LePage signed “An Act To Facilitate the Use of Electronic Monitoring To Prevent Domestic Violence,” into law.
The bill directs state agencies and committees to study and implement a pilot program for electronic monitoring of certain domestic violence abusers, which could be expanded statewide.
The bill was a result of a 2012 report by a task force formed in response to the 2011 domestic violence homicide in which Steven Lake of Dexter killed his estranged wife, Amy, and two children, Coty and Monica, before turning the gun on himself.
In early 2012, Gov. Paul LePage issued an order to form a Task Force to Reduce Domestic Violence through Technology, which submitted a final report later that year. He also pledged $18,000 out of the state’s contingency fund to match donations raised from the Amy, Coty, Monica Memorial 5K race/walk held in Dexter that year. That $36,000 will go toward implementing a monitoring program.
Fredette said the domestic violence bill is a step in the right direction and might be a less costly option than prison or jail for offenders.
The bill requires that the Maine State Board of Corrections, by Feb. 15, 2014, report to the Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety on the progress of developing and implementing an electronic monitoring pilot project, which the legislature will review in its next session. A subcommittee will explore the costs of implementing such a program.
“These devices probably aren’t perfect,” Fredette said, but he’s confident a system can be put in place to “provide for an improved security and safety for victims.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.