Last week, the state of New Jersey established a permanent program to monitor convicted sex offenders with GPS (global positioning system) technology.
For the past two years, New Jersey has had a pilot program in which 156 “high-risk” sex offenders were tracked with GPS devices. The program was set to expire, but the legislators passed a law, which the governor signed, to make it permanent.
In a previous post, Sexually violent predators, Lovefraud noted that sex offenders who are diagnosed as psychopaths are likely to offend again. One study found that within six years of release from prison, 80% of psychopathic sex offenders committed additional offenses, compared to only 20% of offenders who were not psychopaths.
How tracking works
With the GPS tracking systems, offenders are fitted with waterproof ankle bracelets. They are also supposed to carry a transmitter, which is about the size of a digital pager, to relay their position to the satellites, and on to authorities.
An article in Wired points out that GPS tracking is not flawless. The equipment is not totally criminal-proof—convicts can cut the bracelets off, and the transmitters don’t always work inside buildings like shopping malls. Tampering with the devices, however, can alert authorities such as probation officers that there is a problem.
According to a manufacturer of the tracking devices, they cannot prevent crimes, but they do deter crimes. A study of 75,000 Florida convicts found that both GPS monitoring and house-arrest electronic monitoring made convicts more likely to comply with their restrictions.
GPS and domestic violence
New Jersey is now one of about a dozen states that have implemented GPS tracking for sex offenders. Others include California and Florida. Some states, such as Massachusetts and Washington, have gone even further, passing laws that enable the same technology to track perpetrators of domestic violence.
On its website, the Harvard Law School explained the Massachusetts law, which became effective January 4, 2007: “If a domestic abuser enters a geographic ‘exclusion zone’—a court-determined restricted area, such as the victim’s home or workplace, or a child’s school—the GPS device will immediately alert both the domestic abuse victim and the police.”
According to an article on the technology in Slate, the idea is to notify a woman that her abuser is violating a restraining order and buy her crucial time so she can get away.
Tracking and civil rights
In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed Megan’s Law, which requires states to register individuals convicted of sex crimes and make information about sex offenders available to the public. Many states post information about sex offenders on the Internet, although they set their own criteria about what information is published.
Constitutional challenges have been mounted against the laws in several state and federal courts. So far, the laws have withstood all challenges. A white paper by Stop Child Predators argues that GPS tracking will also be found constitutional if challenged because the programs are designed not to further punish the offenders, but to protect the public.
Use all the technology
Lovefraud is in favor of using all available technology to stop sex offenders and batterers. In fact, we hope that even more technology will be used to keep tabs on all kinds of predators.
For example, law enforcement authorities in all 50 states demanded that MySpace cross-check its users with lists of convicted sex offenders. MySpace turned over the names of 7,000 sex offenders who had profiles on the social networking site frequented by children and teenagers. All of the profiles were deleted.
MySpace found 141 convicted sex offenders from New Jersey, and they had logged on to the site a total of 34,000 times.
We need to be proactive
The basic concept that society needs to understand is that predators—call them psychopaths or sociopaths—do not follow the rules. Laws and court orders mean nothing to them. Therefore, we need to be proactive in identifying these people and preventing them from causing harm. The best tool for doing that is information.
Let’s identify and post information about all of these predators on the Internet. When warranted, let’s make them wear GPS tracking devices.
A restraining order is nothing but a piece of paper. But a restraining order enforced by GPS tracking—well, that just may give a domestic violence victim a few minutes of warning and prevent a murder.