The Pitfalls of Electronic Monitoring

The Pitfalls of Electronic Monitoring

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

Prior to the March murder of Colorado corrections chief Tom Clements by parolee EvanEbel, there were many warning signs that monitoring bracelets were not properly functioning.

Ebel was a parolee, who wore an ankle bracelet.  He tore off his ankle bracelet and went on a shooting spree killing Clements and Nathan Leon, an innocent pizza delivery man. Two days later he fled to Texas and was killed by police in a shoot out.

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Ebel was released from prison early because of a clerical error. His parole officer did not learn of his tampered ankle bracelet until four days after Ebel removed the device. By that time it was too late.

A top criminal justice official such as Clements being murdered by an unmonitored dangerous parolee was the incident that finally prompted Colorado to call in federal officials to investigate problems with monitoring bracelets and examine more effective methods of monitoring.

High risk parolees are equipped with monitor bracelets around their ankles to track  their whereabouts. Receivers are installed in the parolee’s homes and more serious offenders are tracked with GPS systems.  

A combination of ineffective monitor training, equipment malfunctions, and delayed response time contributed to parolees committing crimes that could have been prevented.

Bryon Carver, a convicted sex-offender carried a GPS device that transmitted 100 alerts over a three-month period. He tried to out-smart his parole officer by placing his monitoring device on his “little dog Nuzzie.” Carver’s creative scheme was revealed to parole officers when he arrived at his parole appointment, but his device indicated he was still in his home.

When Carver’s parole officer finally checked his home, not only was his GPS device found on “Nuzzie”, but weapons, ammunition, firearms, and crack cocaine were also discovered. Carver’s roommates included underage females and another felon. After three months of his unmonitored charade, Carver was then charged with weapons and drug trafficking.

Cameron Washington removed his monitor back in September as soon as he was released from prison. Washington’s monitor was giving out constant alerts since his discharge. Upon Washington’s reentry, he was given a voucher for a hotel by parolee officials. By the time authorities realized Washington was due for a new bracelet because of a change in vendors, Washington was long gone.

Seventy phone calls to the hotel preceded Washington’s mysterious disappearance. Officials were wasting their time and taxpayers money because Washington had checked out of the hotel a month earlier. Washington had even spent time in the Denver jail while authorities were trying to locate him. Records indicated Washington’s bracelet was hooked-up to the new system, but he was still not tracked.

Washington raped two women at gun and knife point in November while he was supposedly on intensive-supervision. He is now in custody, again.

Parolee Santos Torres, 50 was arrested for allegedly killing a man during a time his monitor device reported numerous power failures. Torres’s strategy was to unplug his in home monitor equipment while he came and went as he pleased.

There are many more monitoring failure stories that end with parolees committing another violent crime because of inadequate monitoring procedures and equipment. Overloaded caseloads and understaffed parole agencies are another problem. “I see agencies with so many alerts that they can’t deal with them,” Drake, a monitoring advisor said. “They end up just throwing their hands up and saying they can’t keep up with them.”

Colorado officials plan to deal with the monitoring alert dilemma by placing a 24-hour limit on parole officer response time. Officials also plan to budget $600,000 a year for legislative leaders to create new parolee tracking policies.

Perhaps a more effective solution for this out of control bracelet monitoring system is to spend $600,000 a year on prevention and rehabilitation programs rather than trying to fix a problem that will continue until the cause is addressed.