Global Positioning System monitors are the latest rage in crime-fighting. Jurisdictions in half the states are reportedly using them.

The Journal of Offender Monitoring (yes, that’s its name) estimates the monitored population at 120,000. Lawmakers promote GPS as high-tech medievalism, a way to get tough on perverts who can’t be kept in jail. But the economics of the “offender-monitoring industry” tell a different story. Most jurisdictions are buying GPS not to confine criminals, but to release them.



Politicians make a big show of imposing GPS on predators after a child has been killed and the community is up in arms. That’s what happened in Massachusetts a few months ago, when a sex offender murdered a 12-year-old and her mother. The slaying of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford prompted passage of the bill in Florida. But GPS tracking costs money: usually $8 to $12 per person per day, according to figures quoted to county and state governments. That’s three or four grand a year. Still, it’s many times less than the cost of incarceration. So, while there may be an occasional public-outrage incentive to impose GPS on offenders who will be out of jail anyway, there’s a constant financial incentive to impose it on those who are in jail—and let them out.



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