Shea urges reforms of electronic home monitoring program, says public is not safe


June 26, 2014

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Shea urges reforms of electronic home monitoring program, says public is not safe

Rep. Matt Shea is warning that public safety is at risk because hundreds of potentially dangerous criminals sentenced to electronic home monitoring may be walking around free due to either administrative oversight or corruption. On Monday, during a meeting of the House Public Safety Committee in Burien, Shea said the program has serious flaws that must be addressed.

“We have reports and stories of some offenders literally going on vacation or to bars while on electronic home monitoring. Offenders actually choose their own home monitoring company. There are some unscrupulous companies out there and criminals are buying time off of the clock from these folks to look the other way,” said Shea, R-Spokane Valley. “Law enforcement is not being notified of these violations. And in particular, many of these offenders know that on Friday, they can cut their bracelets off and nobody will check on them until Monday morning.”

Shea said there is a false sense of security about GPS home monitoring because citizens mistakenly believe it is done in real time. However, that is not the case, said Randy Weaver, president of the King County Corrections Guild.

“The main threat to public safety is a simple fact that if inmates choose to remove their monitors, no one comes rushing out to track them down. There are just not enough officers to vigorously monitor and enforce compliance,” said Weaver, who noted most monitoring is done passively.

Electronic home monitoring has become an increasingly popular alternative to other means of incarceration, primarily because of overcrowding in county jails. While some law enforcement agencies do the monitoring, others contract-out the services to private companies or bail bond companies.

A KING-5 television news investigation on GPS monitoring, entitled “Home Free,” revealed offenders are given the ability to shop for their own private monitoring companies. Frequently, they look for the most lenient companies.

Glen Morgan of The Freedom Foundation, an Olympia-based think tank which first broke the news last September about problems with electronic home monitoring, says private companies have a financial incentive not to report violations because they won’t get paid if the offender is sent back to jail.

“If the private entity even bothered to fill out the form (for the court), it just said, ‘all is well.’ You could look at the alarm codes – anybody could – and see that the criminal who is supposed to be monitored was just free and clear, and just running around,” said Morgan. “And no one knew.”

According to The Freedom Foundation, there are no minimum professional standards a company must meet in order to be considered as a monitor for the program and there are no penalties for lack of reporting violations.

The KING-5 Home Free investigation reported that while on electronic home monitoring, offenders stole a Seattle ferry, kidnapped a six-year-old Seattle girl and murdered a 13-year-old girl in Vancouver.

“There are good companies that properly monitor and report offender violations. However, until we can enact accountability reforms, I’m very concerned the public may not be safe,” said Shea.

During the 2014 session, Shea introduced House Bill 2543, a measure that would have set minimum statewide requirements for public and private entities that provide electronic monitoring of offenders. The measure passed the House unanimously, but died in the Senate during the final hours of the session on March 13. The 4th District lawmaker is now working to draft new legislation.

“First, we need to establish a technology standard, so that when we say you are on electronic home monitoring, this is what it means. And it would have the ability to turn on a siren, to monitor when they cut it off or notify when the battery is going dead. We also need to establish a default standard for what home detention means, including whether an offender is allowed to go to work,” said Shea.

“We must establish tough, new accountability standards for monitoring companies, including background checks and notification requirements, and enact penalties for companies that breach reporting requirements,” added Shea. “We need to decide whether dangerous sex offenders should be on home monitoring. And finally, we should consider giving the Attorney General’s office oversight authority.”

Committee members were generally supportive of Shea’s efforts and said they will work with him to have legislation ready for the 2015 session, which begins in January.

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