Since GPS tracking costs around $300 plus a monthly service fee that is similar in price to a pager or cellular phone, it would be very expensive to outfit everyone requiring electronic monitoring with a tracking device (Under, 2001).
As has been mentioned, the main problem with electronic monitoring is the fact that it can only do so much. it's really very limited in what it can tell the police. Either the offender is home, or they are not. Beyond that, the monitoring device is not of much help to law enforcement. This causes a major impact on society. it's good to know that a criminal is safely behind bars where they cannot leave, even if they wanted to. It brings security and peace of mind to the community, and especially to people that may have been past victims of crime.
With electronic monitoring, there is nothing stopping the criminal from leaving his home. A signal from his monitoring device will alert law enforcement if the monitored individual decides to attempt an escape, but this does not stop him from escaping, at least temporarily. Most offenders who attempt to escape while being electronically monitored will end up back in jail when they are captured, but this does not help the people in the community that the offender may come in contact with during his brief attempt at freedom.
During the time the offender is supposed to be away from home, at work for example, he's basically a free man. He's out in the community and can go where he likes. Not having the ability to tell where the offender is, and not knowing for certain that he's going to come back at the appointed time put law enforcement officers in a bind. There is no way to watch the offender 24 hours a day unless he stays in jail, and no way to make sure he goes where he's supposed to. On top of that consideration, there is always the possibility of tampering with the device.
Although law enforcement feels that the devices are tamper-proof, there are always criminals who will try to destroy the device, or find a way to keep it from going off when it leaves the house at an unexpected time. Maybe they will find some way to get the device loose, and then they can leave the house and no one will know until they are long gone, because the device will still be there, sending out its signal that the offender is still in the house. While this is not a common or expected occurrence, there is a certain lack of safety and security that comes with having a criminal under 'house arrest' in the neighborhood, instead of in jail where he is watched all of the time (Bowman, 1996).
What it all boils down to is this: the jails are overcrowded, and keeping prisoners under lock and key is expensive. There are safety risks and technological glitches that arise when someone is 'turned loose' and put under electronic monitoring. They are attached to the law only by the signals from their device and the telephone, and many of them leave the house for accepted reasons during the day, producing the risk of them not returning when they are expected to.
Research into new and better ways of electronic monitoring is ongoing, and may work to help provide some answers to the dilemma that surrounds electronic monitoring of probationers and parolees, most of which are not hard-core criminals, meaning murders, rapists, and violent offenders.
When electronic monitoring first appeared as an option for criminals, it was in response to an apparent interest across the country to 'get tough on crime'. Unfortunately, getting tough seemed to mean building more jails and putting more people behind bars, not allowing them to stay at home and watch TV all day and wear a bracelet. Getting tough did not include strapping an anklet to someone and allowing them to go to work and the grocery store and the movies like everybody else (Carbado, 2002). It was not expected to be all right for the criminal to walk the streets as long as they were home by the right time, so the signals from their monitoring device could go through the phone line and tell local law enforcement that they were home.
According to one article, some prison systems across the country refuse to use the monitoring devices at all, and the ones that do use them sparingly. There are also states that are considering whether to continue the monitoring programs that they have in place. The lack of tracking ability is one of the reasons that the devices aren't doing as well as expected. Along with that concern, and the concern for the safety of the community, comes the realization that building prisons means creating jobs for people in the area. Even though people say that they don't want to live near a prison, they keep building more, and electronic monitoring is not growing at anywhere near the rate it was originally expected to (Vogelstein, 1997).
Transmitters and monitoring devices have come a long way since they first got started, despite the luke-warm reception from law enforcement. The first transmitters were big bulky items, and they weren't even waterproof. Now they are about the size of a pack of cigarettes, waterproof, and quite difficult to remove. Still, there is the concern of offenders walking the streets. In 1992 a New Jersey man wearing a monitoring device killed another man. This resulted in the suspension of New Jersey's electronic monitoring program until 1996 (Vogelstein, 1997). Instances like that one do not help an industry that is already struggling with safety and security objections from the public (Berk & Campbell, 1993).
In strict opposition to the above information, an article written for American Behavioral Scientist just one year before the Vogelstein article came out states that electronic monitoring is becoming extremely popular, and is one of the most popular sanctions currently used in the United States (Elrod & Brown, 1996).
While this is obviously a conflicting viewpoint, the article presents evidence for electronic monitoring in the results from a survey taken in a county in New York. It also discusses the reasons that electronic monitoring is becoming so very popular among law enforcement officers. The reasons brought to light in the article are mostly the ones already discussed, including financial difficulties, prison overcrowding and the like. Elrod makes another point, however, that has not yet been mentioned. Rehabilitation. Elrod's pervading argument is that an offender allowed to go out into the community and make positive ties with other individuals will have a better chance at rehabilitation that someone who was locked up in prison, with only other prisoners and guards for company (1996).
While it is true that offenders locked up in prison tend to develop a 'prison mentality' and sometimes have trouble when they are released back into the community, Elrod presents no real evidence that electronic monitoring works to rehabilitate offenders. He does also point out that electronic monitoring is better than 'traditional' probation or parole, in that traditional methods only require the offender to check in with law enforcement on a set basis (usually weekly) (Elrod, et.al. 1996). This being the case, electronic monitoring keeps a closer eye on the offender than traditional methods. However, it still allows the offender to have the freedom to make ties in the community and lead a reasonably normal life, the alternative to which would be returning to prison to carry out a sentence.
According to Elrod, how the public feels about electronic monitoring has been largely ignored. The study he performed took into account the seriousness of the crime as well as other factors, and looked at whether people would support a particular type of offender being turned loose in the community under electronic monitoring instead of being jailed. The findings of the study were that many people believe crime will not be reduced simply be putting more criminals in jail (1997).
Another finding of the study was that people felt electronic monitoring should work to rehabilitate offenders, and keep minor offenders from turning into major ones. The main concern of the public surveyed was that putting someone in jail often leads to a life of crime, since many criminals who have been in jail a long time get so used to prison that they don't do very well when they are released into society. People in Elrod's study seemed more interested in rehabilitating major offenders by using less punishment and favored harsher punishment for smaller offenders. Elrod's opinion of this was that the people surveyed did not want to let small offenses turn into larger ones in the future, and therefore favored stronger punishment, in an attempt to convince criminals not to do it again (1997).