Is GPS an Effective Tool in Helping Reduce Recidivism?

All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government use electronic devices to monitor the movements and activities of pretrial defendants or individuals on probation or parole.

The current technology of choice is Global Positioning Systems (GPS).

A detailed report by The PEW Charitable Trusts released in 2015 reported that, “a sharp increase in the use of GPS technology accounted for all of the 10-year growth in electronic tracking.”

These findings are consistent with published studies that suggest, Radio Frequency (RF) devices are giving way to more advanced technology that can track participants in real-time.

In addition, the National Criminal Justice Technology Research, Test, and Evaluation Center at Johns Hopkins reported, that while the number of GPS monitors in use has grown rapidly, the percentage of monitored individuals on both GPS and RF has remained relatively consistent since 1990, estimated at around 4% of the population on community supervision as of 2013.

Accuracy of GPS Technology

GPS satellites broadcast signals in space with a certain accuracy, but reception depends on additional factors including satellite geometry, signal blockage, atmospheric conditions, and receiver design features/quality.

GPS-enabled smartphones are typically accurate within a 4.9 m (16 ft.) radius in ideal conditions.

Real-time positioning can be achieved within a few centimeters, and long-term measurements at the millimeter level with dual-frequency receivers and/or augmentation systems.

With GPS III, the next generation of GPS satellites being designed and built by Lockheed Martin, signals will be three times more accurate than the current generation.

Defining Recidivism

According to the National Institute of Justice, recidivism refers to an individual’s relapse into criminal behavior, often after the individual receives sanctions or undergoes intervention for a previous crime. Recidivism is measured by acts that result in rearrest, reconviction, or return to prison either with or without a new sentence during a three-year period following release.

Four Studies that Support GPS in Reducing Recidivism Rates

First, a 2018 study by the University of Ontario Institute of Technology found:

  • Individuals on electronic monitoring supervision were far less likely to have a Failure to Appear violation (8.17% vs. 22.59%) than those who were not electronically monitored.

The second study from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs and National Institute of Justice showed that electronic monitoring:

  • Reduces an individual’s risk of failure by 31%.
  • Specifically, GPS typically has more of an effect on reducing failure to comply than RF systems.
  • Had less of an impact on individuals involved in a violent crime than on sex, property, drug-involved individuals. However, the effect remains statistically significant.

The third from the U.S. Federal Court System reports:

  • 99% of pretrial defendants on federal location monitoring remain free of any arrest for a violent offense during supervision.
  • 86% of individuals placed on location monitoring at the time of sentencing remained free of any new arrest, during their term of supervision.
  • 97% of individuals placed on location monitoring at the time of sentencing remain free of any arrest for a violent offense, during their term of supervision.

Finally, the American Correctional Association study concluded:

  • GPS monitoring was more effective than traditional parole in reducing recidivism and was also more cost-effective. Parolees in the traditional group — those not placed on GPS monitoring — committed new crimes and had their parole revoked more often than individuals in the GPS group. The traditional group’s recidivism rate was 38% higher than that of the GPS group.

According to these studies, GPS monitoring provides an effective and efficient solution to reduce recidivism, which in turn could help alleviate the burden of overcrowding and reduce facility costs.

Considering a GPS Tracking Program for Your Agency? Tips for Getting Started

For two decades, community corrections agencies have sought to transition individuals to community supervision – on probation, parole, pretrial release or work release – to lessen pressure on jails and prisons, reduce costs, and allow individuals at lower risk to continue to work and live in the community while they are involved in the criminal justice system. Technology has played an important assistive role in allowing this trend to continue.

Often, agencies consider GPS tracking systems as the most advanced technological option among electronic supervision options. BI Incorporated has helped agencies set up GPS tracking programs for decades, and a recently updated white paper, Implementing a GPS Tracking Program for Community-based Supervision: What You Need to Know,” was born from the experiences of BI experts and community corrections agency professionals nationwide. The white paper details several of the key questions when considering a GPS program, beginning with establishing your goals first.

What are the Goals for the GPS Monitoring Program?

When considering a GPS monitoring program, community corrections agencies should define why it is being implemented and have clear long-term goals for the program. Some reasons to implement a GPS program include:

  • Reduce incarceration costs
  • Reduce recidivism
  • Behavior modification through accountability
  • Monitoring compliance with court conditions of release
  • Gradual reduction in restrictions with demonstrated compliance

Nuts and Bolts of a GPS Tracking Program

After establishing goals for your agency, and ensuring you have the buy-in of the key stakeholders supporting your agencies, it’s important to research your vendor options, geographical situation, budget and much more. The white paper covers these topics and more:

Person to be monitored:

When will the GPS tracking system be used in the judicial process—the pretrial or post-conviction phase? Will GPS monitoring be used long-term for those individuals released on probation or parole?

Check partner experience:

Before implementing a GPS monitoring program, a community corrections agency should understand there are no minimum standards of performance established for GPS tracking or for technical support. Check references, track records and dig into how your team will be training and supported over time.

Consider how it will affect your agency:

Implementing a GPS monitoring program might require making changes to the structure of the agency and require new protocols and procedures be created to implement the program. You may want to handle the day to day of running a program internally or outsource the bulk of the work. Explore your options to find a fit that matches your agency’s needs and don’t forget there are many choices when it comes to GPS equipment, so considering your geographic situation is very important.

Budget considerations:

Every agency has unique budget constraints, so carefully run the numbers to see what a GPS tracking program costs in relationship to your sought-after goals. It’s important to consider not just start up costs, but how a program will affect your budget over the long term.

Established more than 40 years ago to support community corrections agencies, BI Incorporated is a partner for agencies and available to help agencies explore if a GPS tracking program is right for their situation. To read or download the white paper, click here.