Ankle bracelets that let authorities track parolees and sex offenders released into the community are now being worn by more than 100,000 Americans, but what happens when the alarm sounds? All too often, the answer is nothing, an AP investigation finds. The devices are generating vast numbers of alerts—often for nothing more than a brief loss of satellite contact—leaving overburdened officials unable to cope and in some cases, allowing defendants with bracelets to commit new crimes. In Colorado, 212 parole officers have an average of 15,000 alerts per month to follow up on.
One Colorado offender, Evan Ebel, tampered with his monitoring bracelet but the alarm wasn't checked on for five days, and he had killed two people—including the head of the state's Department of Corrections—by the time an arrest warrant was issued. "I think the perception ... is that these people are being watched 24 hours a day by someone in a command center. That's just not happening," says an official in Florida's Orange County, where almost all GPS monitoring has been suspended while programs are being revised. In some states including Florida, lawmakers are pushing for tougher punishment for people who tamper with the bracelets. (Read more electronic monitoring stories.)