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Don't oversell home monitoring.

A recent "Inside Edition" segment on electronic monitoring featured a murder victim's father shouting that this was the poorest form of incarceration he had ever seen. The show got me thinking about what we in corrections promise by the phrases we use to describe various electronic monitoring programs.

Consider, for example, the words in the phrase "electronic house arrest." Most of us know exactly what we mean by that. But what do the American people picture when they hear those words?

House arrest has commonly been associated with dictatorships in which political dissidents are put under armed guard in their own home. Webster's Dictionary defines the phrase as "confinement under guard to one's house or quarters instead of prison." Does the public think electronic house arrest is a high-technology version of armed guards ensuring a person stays at home?

The victim's father on the television show used the word incarceration. Does the public think of electronic monitoring as an electronic jail cell and create expectations along those lines?

There are two issues here.

First, we should get straight in our own minds exactly what we are trying to accomplish by the use of the technology. It can have many uses. It can be used as diversion, for early release, as a sanction for parole violations, as an added condition of probation, in combination with bail for pre-trial, as a surveillance tool and for juveniles.

Some programs use the technology on more than one type of offender, yet call it all by the same name. Obviously, the technology's purpose is different in pre-trial than in probation. Assuring trial appearance is a main objective of the former, while punishment is one focus of the latter.

Once we have determined our goal, we should use terms that accurately describe the use of the technology. We need terms that do not oversell the program to its ultimate consumer - the American public. For starters, everyone in corrections should agree that electronic monitoring is not incarceration, detention or even house arrest.

Well, then, what is it?

It is a technology that fairly reliably allows an agency to determine if someone is in his or her home.

It is not a program-it is a tool.

It does not guarantee compliance - it only monitors it.

It is not an active physical deterrent to leaving - it is only a psychological barrier to some offenders.

It is not incarceration - it is an alternative to incarceration.

Electronic monitoring, by any name, has too many benefits to risk its existence by misstating or overstating its uses to the public.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Brummer, Richard F.
Publication:Corrections Today
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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