GPS Monitoring of Criminal Offenders-Florida State University-DC Public Safety Radio

See http://media.csosa.gov for our television shows, blog and transcripts.

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2011/10/gps-monitoring-of-criminal-offenders-florida-state-university-dc-public-safety-radio/

We welcome your comments or suggestions at leonard.sipes@csosa.gov or at Twitter at http://twitter.com/lensipes.

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. The program today, ladies and gentlemen, is on GPS global positioning systems or electronic monitoring. We have Bill Bales on from the Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. They just recently completed a study of 5,000 offenders in terms of the impacts of electronic monitoring and global positioning systems, and some of those results were pretty good. We also have Carlton Butler, a program administrator for GPS for my agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. We’ve been doing GPS monitoring since 2003, so the whole idea, ladies and gentlemen, is to take a look at electronic monitoring, global positioning system monitoring, finding out whether or not it works to reduce recidivism. According to the Florida State University study, it does. And with that introduction, Bill Bales and Carlton Butler, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Carlton Butler:  Thank you, Len.

Bill Bales:  Thank you, Leonard.

Len Sipes:  Okay, Bill, the first question’s gonna go to you. Now this is an impressive study. We’re talking about 5,000 offenders were part of the study, and then you do represent one of the premier research organizations in the United States, the Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. So the thing that I find amazing when I read your report, is that reduce risk of failure by 31 per cent. You’ve reduced – the program, GPS program, electronic monitoring reduces absconding, it reduces revocations, it reduces new crimes. One of the really interesting things that I found is that it’s used as an alternative to prison in about a third of all cases. And considering how states are really struggling with their correctional budgets, I think all of that is a pretty impressive set of findings. So Bill, can you give me a sense as to the larger study and what it really means?

Bill Bales:  Certainly. Yeah, the study involved—and I think this is very important—it involved medium and high-risk felony offenders in Florida. And Florida currently has almost 3,000 people on electronic monitoring. Almost all of those are Global Positioning System cases, and we did a very, what I believe is a sophisticated study of complicated matching of offenders who were placed on GPS versus similar offenders not placed on GPS, and then tracked them. So essentially, we have what we believe is a very equivalent control and experimental group, and the findings are very robust in the sense that just over 30 percent reduction in the likelihood of failure for the same type of offender on EM as non-EM. So that – it’s a finding that again, is very unequivocal from an empirical standpoint, and we believe is very sound from a research perspective. And like you said, Leonard, we also found that about a third of these offenders on electronic monitoring would have been in prison if not for electronic monitoring. And we also found somewhat surprising is that when you look at the effect of EM on outcomes, it’s fairly similar across different offender types in terms of younger versus older, male versus female. Across offense types, we found very similar results, except for among violent offenders the effect was not quite as great, but it was still a significant reduction in new crimes and absconding and violations. So it’s not as though Global Positioning Systems are only useful and effective for certain types of offenders, it’s pretty much across the board. So that was a very positive effect.

Len Sipes:  Now the findings of the research are significant, because all of us read criminological research as it pertains to reducing recidivism, reducing offending, reducing new crimes.

Bill Bales:  Right.

Len Sipes:  And ordinarily, those results, if they are positive, range in the 10 to 20 percent. The outer limits of a lot of the programs that are used around the country are about 20 percent. I mean, you’ve reduced the risk of failure by 31 percent. That makes your study one of the most significant research findings in criminology regarding managing people on community supervision, correct?

Bill Bales:  That is correct, yes. You’re exactly right. There’s a lot of the empirical research in criminology, if we find effects of various types of programs and interventions, they tend to be fairly marginal effects, if any. So yes, this is a very strong finding. And I will also mention that this project was funded by the National Institute of Justice, and the initial report went through a very rigorous peer review process. So these are findings that have been sanctioned and approved by, you know, other experts outside of certainly our college here.

Len Sipes:  Right, you’re a part of the Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice funds research on the basis of – under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Justice. So generally speaking, whatever research they fund is peer reviewed and methodologically correct.

Bill Bales:  Right. Exactly.

Len Sipes:  Okay.

Bill Bales:  That’s correct. Yes.

Len Sipes:  Carlton, we’ve been doing – Carlton Butler, program administrator for our program here in Washington DC under the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency–we’ve been doing GPS since 2003, correct?

Carlton Butler:  That’s correct. We have been.

Len Sipes:  Okay. Now when one of the things that I have found is that there’s just a wide array of evidence, there’s a wide array of stories in terms of the success of GPS. One that comes to mind simply in terms of apprehending an individual, we found that was a person that was involved in a series of sex crimes against young girls. And the picture was put out, and one of our community supervision officers, known elsewhere as parole and probation agents, recognized the face, looked at the GPS tracking system, was able to tie him in to exactly the locations and times that these crimes were committed, worked with the metropolitan police department, and arrested him. So GPS not only has a deterrent value, it has an apprehension value.

Carlton Butler:  Yes it does. Here in DC, Len, we have a partnership program with all our law enforcement partners. We call it the Crimes and Correlation Program, and in that program we offer limited access to our law enforcement partners, and they use crime data to help resolve crimes in the neighborhood. And under that particular case was one of those instances where the Crimes and Correlation Program worked very well.

Len Sipes:  And again, I think the point needs to be made is that law enforcement has access to our GPS tracking data. So not only do we, within the agency, keep track of individuals under supervision, law enforcement has access to that tracking data directly. They can see on any given day, if they have a suspect, where he’s been and where he is.

Carlton Butler:  That is correct, but they also use it for some extended purposes as well. In the District of Columbia, unfortunately there is some issues with gang interaction.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Carlton Butler:  And they use the program to set up what we call global zones throughout the city, to help track who’s actually entering those zones, to be able to match individuals up who might be involved in gang activity, and/or new criminal activities. So they kind of use it to the extent where they do use it for tracking new crimes. But they also use it for crime prevention as well.

Len Sipes:  Bill, I’m gonna go back to you. Now your research shows a reduction in absconding, a reduction in revocations, of reduction in new crimes. Once again, I mean these are just extraordinary findings. It is just – GPS seems to be certainly something that’s gonna be used in the future. You also estimate that five billion offenders are electronic monitoring or GPS somewhere in the United States, correct?

Bill Bales:  I believe that’s the figure. I don’t recall it right off the top of my head –

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Bill Bales:  – to be honest with you. Yes, I know that it’s – certainly it’s expanding as, you know, correctional and preventative type of tool that’s available to various states throughout the country. And my sense is that it will be a method used more and more in the future because of its effectiveness, and the fact that it’s anywhere from six to seven times cheaper than sending someone to state prison or federal prison.

Len Sipes:  And we all agree that states are suffering. I’m not going to get into a debate about the efficacy of incarceration, I’ll leave that to others to decide, but we do know that states throughout the United States, virtually all of them, they’ve got to reduce the budgets of state agencies across the board. What I’ve read in my reading of newspaper articles and media reports, the budget cuts have been the prominent point of concern in the media. The budget difficulties with state agencies and local agencies, we have laying off police officers, closing down prisons, reducing the amount of people in the state attorney’s office and public defenders offices, and the states are saying, “Hey, we have absolutely no choice but to do this, because we’ve got to operate within the confines of the budgets that are given us.” So what this seems to say to me is that GPS is a viable alternative to use as those states try to figure out how to protect public safety, and at the same time, how to manage their own budget. That seems to me that GPS is certainly going to be part of that mix.

Bill Bales:  Yes. I would certainly agree with you 100 percent. There’s no question. Every state in the country is under dire, you know, financial straits at the moment, and Corrections, at least in Florida, the current budget is about 2.5 billion a year.  And it’s almost 10 percent of the state budget, and most of that is in the area of prisons. So certainly to the extent that you can reduce the prison population by even a percent or two, you can make a huge dent in the state budget when we have big deficits.

Len Sipes:  And out of pure curiosity, Bill, one of the things, when I read this study and it came out through the Department of Justice mailing list, I guess I’m a bit surprised that mainstream media has not picked up on this, that other organizations have not picked up on this, that again, the significance of these findings are I guess somewhat short of astounding. Are you getting a lot of coverage for the research?

Bill Bales:  Well, yeah, we’ve gotten numerous enquiries from just really a host of entities. Several states have contacted us that are considering either starting or expanding their GPS programs. And so, legislative bodies have contacted us, governor’s offices. Yeah, we’ve received quite a bit of attention because of the policy implications and the possible cost savings of this technology, which in the scheme of things is relatively new as a correctional strategy. So obviously we’d want more attention, but hopefully others will build on this research to the extent that researchers continue to find positive outcomes of this technology. My sense is it will get more and more attention from policy makers.

Len Sipes:  I guess my observation is that I’m personally surprised it’s not on the front page of USA Today. To me, after all of my years in criminal justice and criminology, to me this is one of the prominent, most significant studies out there. But one of the questions I want to put to Carlton, and Bill, you can chime in if you like, but let’s give Carlton the first crack at this, is that we’re not saying that this is a panacea. I mean, offenders cut these devices off all the time. They have to be recharged. You lose the GPS signal if you go inside of a building. There are ways, and we’re not to discuss specifically what they are, but offenders do try to defeat GPS devices. So this is certainly not a panacea. It’s certainly not foolproof, and it takes a tremendous amount of administration. You suddenly have parole and probation agents—in our case, community supervision officers—with a ton of data that they have to sift through. So this is not as easy as simply slapping on a GPS anklet on that person. Carlton, you wanna take a shot at all that?

Carlton Butler:  Yeah, I agree. I agree this program is not a panacea. It doesn’t replace the supervision officer with their supervision duties on a particular offender. I would say, however, I think the technology has improved a great deal over the last at least three years, and I think that within the next year or so, we will probably see some more advancement to the equipment. What I mean by that is that obviously there are offenders who will attempt to circumvent the system, and because we know this exists, the GPS practitioners are working very hard with vendors to make sure that their devices are updated to be able to kind of help with those kinds of situations. One of the things that I know is prevalent most now in this industry is efforts to shield the device in efforts to jam the device.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Carlton Butler:  And I do know that that is on the forefront of the vendors, manufacturers, to make sure that their device has the ability to detect those type of things. And I would also like to say too, there’s a national committee that was conformed by the National Institution of Justice, and it’s made up of 35 members. Out of that group, it’s probably, I would say, about 25 or 27 practitioners on that. In fact, Mr. [PH] Sanifield, who is the administrator, and I’m sure Bill worked with in Florida, is a member of that committee. And in that committee, we’re doing something unlike what has been done in the past, and that is we’re writing national standards for GPS. And the reason why we’re doing that, because as Bill said earlier in one of his statements, we see the technology or need for the technology to be increasing. And because of that, most practitioners right now who are trying to start up programs, don’t have a whole lot of information unless they reach out to one of their – someone that already has done. So, we hope that these standards will help individuals who want to develop or enhance their GPS program, because there will be a lot of data shared in these standards.

Len Sipes:  We’re halfway through the program, and let me introduce our guests—Bill Bales from the Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The web site for the Florida State University Department of Criminology is www.fsu.edu/departments/#criminology. I’m gonna give that out several times throughout the course of the program. Carlton Butler is a program administrator for my agency, Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. We are the parole and probation agency here for Washington DC. We’re a federal agency, www.csosa.gov. www.csosa.gov. We just redid our fact sheet on GPS, which is gonna be on the main page of our web site, so if anybody’s interested in what it is that we do here.  Bill, okay; back to you. You’ve heard Carlton say that there’s a need for national standards, and the committee that he’s working with is there. There’s a need for national standards on GPS. Do you agree?

Bill Bales:  Yes, I think that makes total sense. It is like, as Leonard knows—I mean, as you know and as Carlton knows—it’s a fairly sophisticated technology. But based on our research–and part of that involved actually going out throughout the state of Florida and interviewing those probation officers and administrators, and also offenders—we found that they were well trained, and a lot of that had to do with the vendor themselves, that were very much involved with the community corrections folks that used this technology. And I think that was extremely advantageous, that they have a very close working relationship, and they have mutual goals in mind in terms of, you know, having this GPS system work properly. And the other thing that we witnessed, which was very positive, was there’s continuous efforts to improve not just the technology itself, but just the process of implementing and using this technology to keep offenders from violating. And so I think that’s a critical component of this, is the type of relationships and partnerships that the vendors and the correctional organization has. And one thing—and I’ll plug this just very quickly—the Department of Corrections did in Florida is they determined that so many of the quote “violations” that occurred while people were on GPS, were very very minor instances; like you mentioned, where the GPS device or signal was lost. So they worked with the vendor and implemented a monitoring center that the vendor maintains. And so all the alerts that occur go directly to the vendor, their monitoring center, and 99 percent of them, they can handle and clear without an incident. But the supervising officer is aware of those, but they don’t have to respond to them instantly. So, that’s been a tremendous assistance to the officers in terms of the time involved in working with their GPS case load. So, I think there are a lot of – there are numerous things, initiatives that can be used and expanded as this, you know, capability moves forward.

Len Sipes:  And Carlton, that’s one of the things that you advocated and implemented here, is to have the vendor basically take care of all that minor stuff so the community supervision officers can focus on the big part of the violation.

Carlton Butler:  Yes, we did, Len. And also, one of the things that I read in Bill’s report, and that was one of the things that one of the probationary officer’s stated; they would have liked the opportunity to work with the EM program, actually in the unit prior to be given case loads of offenders on EM. I think that’s significant, because one, it gives them the training skill that they need; and two, it helps them to understand what some of the alerts that they actually receive, because oftentimes they get so many alerts and it’s so overwhelming to them, because there’s so much data for them to filter through. This is one of the reasons why we elected to go to the monitoring center, so that we would have someone that was a little more trained and a little more skilled to farm through that data first, before that data would be generated to the probationary officer, so they would know what to do with it beyond that point.

Len Sipes:  I remember talking to a reporter from Massachusetts who basically was a little upset with the system in Massachusetts–and that’s another story for another time–but basically talking about GPS as being over-sold and over-promised. And my sense was that well, how can you possibly over-sell or over-promise GPS? The offender can just snip it off and walk away from the unit. There are no guarantees on GPS, but this is why I was so excited about Bill Bales study, because it basically says, “Yeah, there are endless problems with GPS, there are endless complications, it’s hard to administer, it throws just an unbelievable amount of information.” Remember, the average parole and probation agent in this country sees that offender on a twice a month basis for two 15-minute interviews in an office. That’s what ordinarily happens throughout the United States. Now, you’re getting a ton of data, flow of data, every single day on every single offender who’s on GPS. That becomes difficult to deal with. But let me go back to what I originally said, and Bill, we’ll start with you. I mean, again, this is not a panacea, this is not – nobody should be selling this as something that’s going to quote/unquote “solve supervision problems”.

Bill Bales:  That’s correct, and officers told us that numerous times, that GPS is a tool. But you can never replace the responsibilities and efforts and the things that officers do to keep offenders from violating. And so while pretty much ever officer we talked to thought that GPS was a very effective tool at their disposal, you still have to have that one-on-one contact between the officer and the offender and the, you know, unannounced visits to their homes and their places of employment, and so forth and so on. So, yeah, we can’t lose sight of the fact that this is just one tool that appears to be extremely effective. But we can’t lose sight of the incredible value that these officers bring to the table in terms of dealing with, you know, especially very serious offenders, many of whom, at least in Florida, 75 percent are sex offenders. And so, we can’t lose sight of the incredible work the officers do in this regard.

Len Sipes:  And Carlton, you have essentially said the same thing, that in terms of the individual officers, it’s – you’ve gotta continue working hard supervising your offenders in person. You’ve gotta work with them, you’ve gotta get them involved in treatment programs, you’ve gotta be sure that they’re working, you’ve gotta be sure that they’re following the conditions of their supervision. The GPS system is simply nothing more than a tool.

Carlton Butler:  I agree, that it is simply a tool, and that is it’s data, as you said, it’s a lot of data that you have to absorb and try to dissect. But that’s all that it is, is data. That one-on-one contact with the offender tends to give the supervision officer a whole other realm of information that the GPS device will never be able to provide. What the GPS device pretty much provides is locations and maps of where the offender would actually frequent. But in terms of – and it might give them some information on new collateral contacts where they may have not known where the offender was going, of certain places he was going.

Len Sipes:  Or, if sex offenders are hanging out at playgrounds.

Carlton Butler:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  And we also use this as a curfew. We can restrict them to their house, we can restrict them to their block, we can restrict them to a certain part of the city. And we can, as they comply with the methods of supervision, we can ease up on GPS supervision. We can give them more freedom and more flexibility to reward them for complying with the terms of their supervision.

Carlton Butler:  Yes, that’s true, and these are the types of things we’re able to do here in DC, that’s been very effective in my use of GPS.

Len Sipes:  Okay, gentlemen, we have four minutes left in the program, and I need 30 seconds to close, so that’s three-and-a-half minutes. Bill, where do we go with GPS? With your research, it seems to indicate that this has a major impact not only on state budgets, but it has a major impact or potential for reducing crime, for reducing problems under supervision. Where do we go to from here?

Bill Bales:  Well, I think certainly we need to continue to do the research. I mean, our research was but strictly in one state, and it was a population of medium and high risk felony offenders, so as you all know, GPS has been expanding to local jails and other types of correctional facilities. So I think that’s one area. I think the other area is in terms of the application of GPS to various types of offenders, and also the level of discretion that probation officers and administrators have in the use of GPS, because currently, at least in Florida, that’s all determined by the judge. And from what we observed in talking to people, was that something that the states and locals should consider is giving more discretion to the probation offices in terms of the application of GPS, in terms of when an offender needs to be on it, when they need to be off of it; and because they work with the offenders on a consistent basis, and they know when an offender may be going south, and when this tool could possibly be applied to prevent that from getting worse.

Len Sipes:  So more jurisdiction, more authority at the local level to make those decisions in the field based upon conditions and not necessarily what the judge has to say or what the parole commission has to say, to give that flexibility and freedom to the people in the field to make those decisions.

Bill Bales:  Right, yeah. There’s been laws, like the Jessica Lunsford law in Florida where it ties the judge’s hands as to who gets put on GPS. But as I know Carlton knows, every case is different, and what tool we need to bring to the table to, you know, reduce the likelihood of failure, is variable across different types of offenders, different situations. So I think the states, the policy makers, real need to look at this in a very objective way and say, “Okay, this tool seems to be incredibly effective. How can we apply it in a more reasonable, objective and effective manner to the right population at the right points in time of their supervision?”

Len Sipes:  Carlton, we only have about a minute left. That’s basically what you’ve said as well.

Carlton Butler:  Yes, it is.

Len Sipes:  That really, it really cannot be a hard and fast rule. It can’t be a hard and fast application that the community supervision officer/parole and probation agent needs to be involved in this, and really needs to make decisions in terms of when to apply it, when to take them off, how long to keep them on.

Carlton Butler:  Yeah, I agree. I agree with everything that Bill has said. I do know that however with the Jessica law, there is a loophole in it that might present a problem. One is that from the time the individual comes off of probation and have life in GPS, there’s nobody to really supervise them after they come off probation or supervision.

Len Sipes:  Mm-hm.

Carlton Butler:  So hopefully they can fix that part of the law, because that’s been a challenge to the industry.

Len Sipes:  Alright, Carlton, I’m gonna give you the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We’ve been talking to Bill Bales, Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The web site is www.fsu.edu/departments/#criminology. Also being with us today, or also on our air is Carlton Butler, program administrator for my agency, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency. The program administrator for the GPS program, www.csosa.gov. The research that I’ve been talking about today it’s called “A Quantitative and Qualitative Assessment of Electronic Monitoring”. Ladies and gentlemen, we do want to thank you for your letters, for your phone calls, for your e-mails, for suggestions in terms of what we can do to improve the show. Comments and criticisms are always welcome, and I do want everybody to have themselves a very very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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