Incarcerated individuals have no privacy rights, being exposed to strip searches, body cavity searches, cell raids, and monitoring of mail, internet access, telephone conversations, and family and attorney visits. This makes prisons and prisoners prime marketing targets for ever more invasive tracking, surveillance, and monitoring technologies. Surveying and organizing inmate information is a competitive market.
The main companies involved in this sector are:
3M Electronic Monitoring ltd., a subsidiary of 3M Company, of Odessa, FL (NYSE: MMM)
BI (Behavioral Interventions) Inc., a subsidiary of The GEO Group, Inc., of Boca Raton, FL (NYSE: GEO)
G4S plc, of Crawley, U.K. (LON: GFS, OMX: G4S)
Omnilink, a subsidiary of Numerex Corp., of Atlanta, GA (NASDAQ: NMRS)
TrackGroup Inc. (previously SecureAlert), of Salt Lake City, UT (OTC: TRCK)
Alanco Technologies, Inc., of Scottsdale, AZ (OTCQB: ALAN)
Dräger Safety, Inc., Drägerwerk AG & Co. KGaA, of Lübeck, Germany (ETR: DRW3)
Satellite Tracking of People LLC, acquired by Securus Technologies Inc., of Dallas, TX (Private)
iSECUREtrac LLC, acquired by Corrisoft Inc., of Lexington, KY (Private)
Sentinel Offender Services, of Irvine, CA (Private)
Sierra Detention Systems, The Sierra Companies, of Brighton, CO (Private)
Monitoring Prison Grounds
Surveillance through biometric and radio frequency identification (RFID) technology allowing guards to track prisoners’ locations inside the facilities, and to count prisoners using bar codes on wrist bracelets are replacing traditional lock-and-key inmate tracking. In 2005, the Arizona-based Alanco Technologies installed a RFID system in the Los Angeles County Jail. 3M, a corporation in the business sectors of industrial manufacturing; safety and graphics; electronics and energy; healthcare; and consumer goods, provides high-tech security and surveillance products for law enforcement and correctional facilities. In 2017, 3M sold subsidiaries to Apax Partners and Gemalto to provide the technology to track more than 4,200 inmates and staff in 13 facilities in 7 states. M2SYS, a major provider of biometric technology, works with CoreCivic, the largest private corrections company in the U.S., with 67 facilities and over 92,500 beds. Through M2SYS, biometric identification software is being rapidly integrated into jail management software, like those provided by Digital Solutions, CISCO, and Emerald Systems, to identify new inmates and visitors and to track inmate movements throughout the facility. These inmate tracking systems offer real-time, automatic headcounts, inmate tracking, security alerts, and event and escape notifications.
Throughout the country, law enforcement agencies are increasingly embracing biometric technology which uses fingerprints, facial features, irises, tattoos, or DNA to identify people. One primary source of biometric data comes from county jails, where inmates are photographed and fingerprinted during the booking process. This technology is being deployed more widely and cheaply than ever before—and with less oversight. Mobile biometric technology includes mobile devices and apps that police use to capture and analyze a person’s physical features in the field and submit that information to a central database for matching. While police deploy this technology to confirm the identity of someone during a stop, the technology captures people's biometric data and adds to biometric databases regardless of whether their identity is in question.
In 2008, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) initiated a $2 million contract with DataWorks for a “Digital Mugshot System,” which included facial recognition and tattoo recognition technology. DataWorks’ system, combined with Cognitec facial recognition algorithm, could match a face in under 30 seconds. As of 2013, the system had more than 6.5 million booking photos and more than 3 million images of scars, marks, and tattoos. Between 2010 and 2013, the county sought information and proposals to expand what it called a “Multimodal Biometric Identification System” that, in addition to facial and tattoo recognition, would include iris scanning, DNA analysis, and voice recognition. Ultimately, it decided to extend its current contract with DataWorks, signing another four-year, $2.1 million deal in February 2015.
In 2014, Hewlett-Packard Company was contracted by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to design, implement, and provide ongoing support for California’s Strategic Offender Management System. The system stores and tracks information on all current and former people incarcerated by the state, and this data can be used to discriminate against formerly incarcerated people years after their release. HP Enterprise handled this contract between 2015 and 2017, and it is now in the hands of DXC Technology.
Home Confinement & Electronic Tagging
Supervision programs using GPS are the fastest growing market of electronic monitoring (EM). EM was introduced as an alternative to incarceration; marketed as allowing offenders to remain a part of their community by retaining employment, attending religious gatherings and family events. Perversely, this home detention is widening the net of the criminal justice system. There’s evidence that often times it’s being used to “place people who would otherwise not have been locked up under more restrictive and intrusive supervision than they need.” For example, one analysis in the Journal of Law and Policy, shows most of those placed on electronic monitors haven’t committed serious or violent offenses and, were it not for monitoring, at least some of these populations would not be incarcerated or otherwise under physical control.
Surveillance and monitoring equipment is a rapidly-expanding profitable industry. According to a December 2015 Pew survey, “the number of accused and convicted criminal offenders in the United States who are monitored with ankle bracelets and other electronic tracking devices rose nearly 140 percent over 10 years. More than 125,000 people were supervised with the devices in 2015, up from 53,000 in 2005.”
Beyond tracking a person’s location, electronic monitoring can be used to detect alcohol and drug use. Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc. (AMS) manufactures SCRAM (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor) which is worn on ankle or wrist and detects alcohol excretion from the skin by sampling the user’s sweat and measuring his or her blood alcohol level. As of 2013, SCRAM systems were being used in 49 states. In 2012, AMS partnered with Omnilink, a subsidiary of Numerex, to expand its alcohol monitoring functions to include GPS location services, so multiple monitoring functions could be provided by one device.
Monitoring Immigrant Location
The U.S. detains more immigrants than any other country. In 1994, daily detention capacity was 6,784 and has increased dramatically over the past few decades. In 2016, at least 440,000 immigrants were detained in America’s sprawling immigrant detention system of over 200 facilities.
GPS ankle monitors are becoming standard equipment for immigration officials along the border. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s "Alternatives to Detention" program has subjected almost 20,000 immigrants to wearing electronic monitors throughout their deportation proceedings. “Since launching in 2013, Libre by Nexus has seen its business explode, in part because of the recent surge of Central American migrants and a push by ICE to raise detainees’ bonds as a deterrent to further migration.”
Behavioral Interventions (BI Inc., a subsidiary of Geo Group Inc), which controls 30 percent of the electronic monitoring market, contracted with ICE in 2015 for the electronic monitoring of thousands of immigrants waiting for hearings in asylum and deportation cases using ankle bracelets.
In 2010, Hewlett-Packard Company was contracted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to design and implement a system to speed up deportation processes. The system automated the process by which the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) determines the immigration status and identity of suspects through tracking warrants, jail rosters, and “criminal alien tracking.” Under the “Secure Communities Initiative,” this information was shared with other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies across the U.S. HP Enterprise handled this contract between 2015 and 2017, and it is now in the hands of DXC Technology.
Electronic monitoring costs are high, incurred by vendor costs, operating costs, and equipment, as well fees to fund the program. One reason EM has been adopted so widely by criminal justice agencies is the cost: these systems are generally “offender-funded,” so people wearing the monitors pay much of the expenses. Securus recorded $26.3 million in 2014 revenue from its new "offender monitoring systems" business after its 2013 acquisition. A 2014 national survey by National Public Radio noted that most states impose fees ranging from $10 to $25 per day for monitoring. “The central problem with offender-funded, pay only probation is this: the longer it takes offenders to pay off their debts, the longer they remain on probation and the more they pay in supervision fees. In other words, the poorer a person is the more they ultimately pay and the longer they have to live with the threat of possible incarceration hanging over their heads.”
Unlike prisoners who have constitutional rights to time outside, access to legal materials, medical care, and an adequate diet, most people under EM must apply for permission to leave their home - and permission must be programmed into the device. Permission for movement is not easily granted. In 2014, one man interviewed by Truthout said, “There was literally a period of three straight months that I never left the house because of the hassle.” If permission is denied, there are no channels for appeal. People have complained of being restricted from job interviews, funerals, or visiting family in the hospital. “Even probation officers have acknowledged how monitoring—both the actual physical confinement and the constant knowledge of being watched—seeps into each moment of a confined person’s daily life. A Department of Justice study, for example, found that, with the visible ankle monitor acting as a “scarlet letter,” those permitted to go to work had a difficult time finding or holding jobs.” During an interview with US News, an ACLU representative said, "It is important to understand how onerous, restrictive, and privacy-invasive it can be to have a GPS monitor attached to your body 24 hours a day."
People on electronic monitoring are also subject to direct supervision by parole and probation officers, as well as halfway house staff. Many formerly-incarcerated people will be under the supervision of private probation companies. Probation and parole violations may result in flash incarceration (immediate imprisonment without a court hearing) or a return to prison or jail to finish out a sentence.
The threat of returning to prison because they cannot pay fees associated with their own monitoring creates economic hardship for families, and in effect create debtors’ prisons. In at least 44 states, people on supervision may be billed for their own parole or probation supervision. Regular drug testing may also be a condition of parole or probation at an average cost of $25 per test, to be paid by the person being supervised, which may total $1250 for a year of testing -- often in addition to electronic monitoring fees.
In Richland County, South Carolina, the community argued over the legality of the use of electronic monitoring. Offender Management Services (OMS) was hired in 2014 to provide “offender-funded” ankle bracelets to individuals released on bonds. From 2014 - 2016, 418 individuals released on bail were required to use the electronic monitoring devices. Monthly fees amounted to $259, and if a user didn’t pay the bill OMS had the authority to report the user to authorities under the auspice of bail violation. Richland County Chief Public Defender filed a complaint against the OMS contract, alleging that the electronic monitoring program was unconstitutional. In June 2016, a South Carolina Circuit Court Judge ruled that the private electronic monitoring company Offender Management Services had “unrestrained supervisory power” over users and that the program was unlawful.
The major companies profiting from these practices are listed below. G4S is a global leader in this industry, and about a third of the electronic monitoring market in the U.S. is controlled by Behavioral Interventions (BI Inc.), a wholly-owned subsidiary of GEO Group. Once a program has been implemented using a particular vendor, the cost of switching vendors can be very high.