Radio Transcript-The Use of GPS to Supervise Offenders in the United States
Below is a radio transcript of the ARD German Broadcasting Corporation’s interview of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency’s (CSOSA) use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to supervise and assist offenders.
Interviewed were Carlton Butler, GPS unit program administrator and Gladys Dorgett, administrator of the sex offender unit. The interview was conducted on June 22, 2010 in Washington, D.C.
Information on CSOSA’s sex offender and GPS units is available at www.csosa.gov. Articles, television and radio programs are available.
On a computer map, Carlton Butler zooms in on a cluster of little, red dots. They are the signals of an ankle monitor that’s attached to the leg of a sex offender.
Carlton Butler is the GPS program administrator at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in Washington, DC. From his desk, he can access all information about the roughly 800 people that participate in the program.
“A green circle is the inclusion zone that we identify as a curfew zone”, explains Butler. It’s drawn around the building where the offender has to spend his day before he is allowed to go out at night. A red circle shows areas that the man is not allowed to be in, for example a certain radius around a school.
If the offender violates these rules, the ankle monitor immediately sends a signal to the supervision agency.
Different from the types used in Germany, American ankle monitors are equipped with a GPS system that sends a signal every minute; which means authorities always know where the offender is.
“Americans really appreciate the GPS device, because the offender is monitored to a great extent”, says Gladys Dorgett, who heads the Agency’s sex offender unit. She explains that offenders like violent husbands aren’t allowed near their victims.
In Germany, concerns have been voiced that the GPS device amounts to the total surveillance of an individual. In the US, such criticism is hardly ever heard. On the contrary, Butler and Dorgett stress the many positive of the ankle bracelet; offenders can keep on living within the community, can keep their jobs and stay with their families.
Only in California is the electronic GPS monitor used more often than in the US capitol but Butler and Dorgett don’t give the impression of being hard-line sheriffs promoting a surveillance state. Instead, with much passion they tell stories of how much help offenders get so as not to relapse.
But one thing is for sure; whoever wears the monitor is always under the focus of the authorities. The collected data is available to a fairly large number of law enforcement agencies and are, for example, being used by the police to resolve crimes.
“They can pull up and put in what we call an incident hit”, says Carlton Butler. “And what the system will do is bring back any offender who may have been in the area at the time of the crime.”
German privacy protection groups would surely have their hairs stand on end if they knew that the deletion of data is almost unheard of here.
The GPS program was introduced in 2003 and all the data that has been collected since then can still be retrieved. The police sometimes use it when they go back to cold cases.
Carlton Butler is very proud of his monitoring system but he doesn’t sell it as a crime fighting panacea. “It’s pretty much a tool, that’s all it is. What it is not is a deterrent if someone really wants to do something.”