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Report: Steep Rise in Electronic Monitoring; Little Public Benefit

The number of people on electronic monitoring in the criminal-legal and immigration systems grew almost tenfold between 2005 and 2022, according to a new report from the Vera Institute of Justice, which looks at the harms of the growing surveillance using data collected from criminal legal system agencies in all 50 states and more than 500 counties, as well as from federal courts, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and ICE. 

According to Vera, the report “challenges the notion that EM is inherently a humane and just alternative to incarceration and calls for a reassessment of its impact on individuals, communities, and the broader criminal legal system.”

Though ankle monitors are the best-known forms of electronic monitoring (EM), it comes in a few forms to track people’s physical location, movement, or other markers of behavior, such as blood alcohol levels. In the criminal legal system, it’s commonly used as a condition of pretrial release or post-conviction supervision. For people in civil immigration proceedings, it often tracks people who are facing deportation. 

From 2005 to 2021, the number of people under. EM supervision grew nearly fivefold and has accelerated in recent years, particularly within the immigration system. Between 2021 and 2022, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) more than tripled the number of adults placed on EM, to a total of 360,000 people. Data shows that the adverse effects of EM are also disproportionately felt by communities of color, deepening existing inequalities. 

The Vera report disputes claims that electronic monitoring is an alternative to incarceration. Authors say that EM has expanded the reach of the criminal legal and immigration system, subjecting more people to surveillance and control, probation and parole violations. “Instead of reducing incarceration rates, EM often expands surveillance and control over people who might otherwise be free,” the report emphasizes.

Beyond the use of EM, the report criticizes a lack of regulation in the EM industry, “a decentralized and unaccountable landscape dominated by private companies.”

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