Losing Track: Series explores problems with Wisconsin GPS monitoring

A series of articles from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism explores problems with Wisconsin’s GPS monitoring program. GPS monitoring is increasingly popular across the country, despite questions about the technology.

According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, 88,000 offenders were strapped with GPS bracelets in 2015 — 30 times more than the 2,900 offenders who were tracked a decade earlier. Wisconsin had a daily average of about 1,500 offenders on tracking in 2017-18 — a nearly 10-fold increase from 158 offenders in 2008-09. 

Some experts say GPS monitoring can be a useful tool in providing structure, reducing recidivism, allowing offenders to work and lowering costs compared to incarceration. But technological problems can get in the way of those benefits. 

Mike Nellis, editor of the Journal of Offender Monitoring, believes that GPS monitoring in the United States has taken on a punitive approach that hampers offender reintegration. The journal focuses on monitoring technology and its use in enhancing public safety. 

“If (offenders) are trying to reintegrate themselves … to suddenly find yourself carted back to prison for something that is in no way your fault seems to me to be quite an unnecessary disruption in the life of an offender — and quite at odds with good practice in reintegrating them,” Nellis said.

You can read the series, and an earlier series from 2013, here.

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