GPS monitoring in domestic violence and stalking cases

18 05 2009

via The New York Times and Slate

There has been a recent push from many organizations for court-mandated GPS monitoring in domestic violence and stalking cases.  Several state laws permit judges to mandate GPS monitoring as a condition of a restraining order.  The GPS can keep track of abusers and alert police whenever a domestic violence offender enters a restricted zone or removes or deactivates the bracelet.  GPS monitoring is also a possible deterrent from the violation of restraining orders in the first place.

A recent law in Massachusetts has expanded GPS device use to include domestic violence and stalking offenders who have violated orders of protection.  Thirteen states have passed similar legislation, and about 5,000 abusers are being tracked nationwide.  

There is debate over who will cover the cost of such monitoring if it becomes more widely used.  The cost of the monitoring system is somewhere around $10 per day.  States such as Massachusetts make the abusers pay for their own devices.  However, this plan is problematic in cases where the perpetrator is unable to meet the cost or is paying child support at the same time.  Another plan would be for the government to pay for the systems, but the systems are quite expensive.  Hopefully, this cost will be made up in reduced needs for other domestic violence resources and shelters.  There are also concerns that paying for the GPS systems might actually divert funds from other domestic violence programs.  With the recent economic crisis, many states have had trouble meeting the cost of the GPS monitoring program and the associated training for police and judges.

Of course, GPS monitoring isn’t a perfect system.  Some argue that GPS monitoring might enrage certain abusers and make violations even more likely.  Also, there are many different types of long-distance abuse, harassment, and intimidation that are possible even with GPS monitoring. The ACLU has complained that there is too much leeway for judges in decisions about GPS monitoring.  It is also very difficult to protect families who live in rural areas where police are not able to respond quickly to alerts.  There is also always the fear that the perpetrator will remove his/her device.

I have also seen arguments that GPS monitoring could be unjustly used by legal authorities to target the black community and monitor the activities of black males.  Also, some argue that since GPS is typically used in the worst and highest risk cases, the punishment should be prison, not GPS monitoring.  Check out the Harvard Law Record article for a synopsis of a panel discussion on the pros and cons of GPS monitoring.

All in all, though, this does seem like a pretty good option.  The system puts the burden on the abuser rather than the victim.  The system also will provide clear and prove-able evidence of violations of restraining orders in the case that the perpetrator does enter the restricted zone while wearing the device.  GPS monitoring can alert victims of violence if their perpetrator is in the vicinity and notify police.  It could buy victims the much needed extra time that it takes to escape and could also deter acts of violence in certain cases.  Although it isn’t a perfect system, GPS monitoring could help victims breathe a bit easier, and even a little bit of relief from fear and danger is priceless for victims of abuse.


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