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California to try tracking parolees with GPS

Mercury News | October 11, 2005
By Andrew LaMar

SACRAMENTO - Satellite tracking technology, a staple of weather forecasting and military operations for decades, is the latest tool California can use to ease its overburdened parole and probation system under legislation signed Tuesday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The bill, written by Sen. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, clears the way for the state and its counties to continuously monitor the location of people on probation or parole by using global positioning system (GPS) devices.

Although expensive -- the cost runs close to $9 a day for each person tracked -- widespread use of the GPS system could dramatically reduce repeat criminal offenses and in turn save the state as much as $1 billion a year.

``It's important to note that the system works,'' said Speier, who cited Florida as an example. Repeat offenses of GPS-monitored parolees in that state dropped by 50 percent, Speier said.

Schwarzenegger signed the measure along with 28 other public safety bills. The governor also embraced legislation that extends the statute of limitations for reporting a sex crime and blocks sex offenders from receiving drugs for erectile dysfunction through Medi-Cal.

California counties have shied away from GPS monitoring without clear legal authority to employ it. But with Speier's measure now law, probation officials in Santa Clara, Contra Costa and San Mateo counties are ready to consider the option.

``We need to explore the areas we would want to use it and determine its benefits to the county and the community,'' said Delores Nnam, public information officer for the Santa Clara County Probation Department.

California has 115,000 parolees and 250,000 on probation, according to the state Department of Corrections. A report done by the Little Hoover Commission in 2003 said although nearly 42 percent of parolees successfully complete parole nationally, only 25 percent manage to stay out of trouble in California.

The state launched a $5.4 million pilot program over the summer to track sex offenders via satellite. Currently, 80 parolees in San Diego and Riverside counties are being monitored, and that number will increase to 500 under the program, said Todd Slosek, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections.

Parole experts at the University of California-Irvine, are evaluating the program.

Many county officials are taking a wait-and-see approach, said Lionel Chatman, Contra Costa County's chief probation officer. The county has electronic home monitoring for some minors on probation but does not currently use any GPS technology.

The drawback to GPS is the expense, Chatman said.

``It gives us another option to provide intensive supervision for a selective group of probationers,'' Chatman said. ``I'm curious to see how good it is and if the state is really satisfied with its tracking program. I'm sure vendors will be knocking on my door.''

San Mateo County officials said they are pleased with the success of a month-old program to electronically monitor 30 minors at their homes.

Stuart Forrest, the county's deputy chief of adult probation, said he has concerns about privacy issues raised by GPS monitoring. But, he said, ``I can see where GPS might be useful.''

Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice fought Speier's bill. The attorneys association said GPS needs more study because it raises ethical and privacy issues.

But Speier dismissed the cost and privacy concerns. The expenses of housing an inmate at a state prison, about $90 a day, far exceeds the cost of GPS monitoring, she said.

``When you are on parole or probation you are still under the control of the state, you are not a free citizen,'' Speier said, ``and you do not have the same rights and privileges.''


Last modified October 11, 2005





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