Legislators Question Sex Offender GPS Tracking

By: Phil Levin Email
By: Phil Levin Email

After two sex offenders cut off their bracelets two weeks apart, legislators are questioning the state's use of GPS tracking.

Individual counties and other groups administer their own programs, but the state is currently tracking 635 criminals by GPS, most of them sex offenders.

At an Assembly Committee on Corrections hearing Thursday, representatives questioned the sending of offenders back to jail because they fail to respond to bracelet alerts, not because they are entering unauthorized areas.

"Limitations really are if the piece of equipment doesn't work it gives us that alert and then we investigate that alert," said Department of Corrections Directer of Sex Offender Programs Grace Roberts. "Sometimes it may mean that person going into custody until we can actually figure out that may be based on where they are living, it's not getting that cell phone tower signal, or something like that."

Rep. Michael Schraa (R- Oshkosh) questioned the $6 million annual cost of the program and request for even more funds. Bracelets and other sobriety monitoring equipment cost less than $7 per person to lease daily, and the DOC only monitors 2,277 offenders.

"I'm just not sure fiscally that it's responsible for us to be putting that kind of money into a program that is really at best not accurate," he said."

Dane County also uses about 160 GPS monitoring ankle bracelets for its inmates out on huber. While Roberts says the state has trouble tracking offenders in vehicles and indoors away from windows, county staff say their devices rarely have those issues. When they do, lights flash alerting the wearer to check in.

"They know that when they get an alert on this bracelet. We have the exact same alerts in our email inbox, on our monitoring software, on our pagers, and if they don't call us we will be calling them," said Dane County Sheriff's Deputy Eric Bates.

Roberts says in the two recent escapes local police were called less than five minutes after the bracelets were cut. As for offenders spending more time in jail because of lost GPS signals, she says some supervised release is better than none and it's better to err on the side of public safety.

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