ELECTRONIC MONITORING OF CRIMINAL OFFENDERS
Electronic monitoring of nonviolent criminal offenders who are placed under home confinement has become a popular alternative to incarceration. In 2005, business executive and TV personality, Martha Stewart, became the unwilling "poster woman" for this technology. Referring to the ankle bracelet she was required to wear, she stated during a Web chat (March 14, 2005) from her estate that "I hope none of you ever has to wear one."
Monitoring provides a convenient sentencing alternative because it is a punishment less harsh than incarceration but more strict than minimally supervised probation. However, the original goal of electronic monitoring was not to punish offenders but to provide a means of rewarding prosocial, noncriminal behavior.
Early experimental work with monitoring devices was done by a group of graduate students and volunteers at Harvard in the 1960s. My twin brother, Ralph Kirkland Gable, obtained a patent (#3,478,344) with William S. Hurd in 1964, and we published an article that year outlining how such devices could be used.1 Here are two photographs taken of the project developed by Harvard group; it was called "Streetcorner Research." 2
I moved to the Los Angeles area, and mimicked (with less success) what my brother had done in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I devised with Richard Bird a belt- mounted transceiver that was capable of sending and receiving tactile signals. See photos below.
Two-way communication with juvenile offenders was possible within a circumscribed geographical area without the need for fixed transceivers because we set-up a small FCC-licensed experimental radio station.
I wrote an article in the April 1969 issue of Psychology Today about the invention. The article was entitled "Belt from Big Brother." (The magazine editors actually created the scary title without my knowledge.) A more informative and scholarly article was published in 1970.3
In the 1980s, Kirk established a system in Thousand Oaks, California, under the auspices of a nonprofit research trust (Life Science Research Group, Inc.) that provided customary monitoring for offenders using a secure ankle band. A unique feature of this system was a computer-based electronic bulletin board that would allow up to 20 participants and a network information manager to send and receive email from specified locations. See simplified diagram ▼
The design philosophy focused on the possibility of establishing a community-based network that would encourage members to share the responsibility of monitoring and giving encouragement to other members by facilitating planned and unplanned beneficial social interactions while preserving public safety. One might think of it, in contemporary terms, as a "Bluetooth AA." The photo below of one of the Life Science Group participants was taken on December 31, 1989.
We are convinced that supervised monitoring with electronic devices should include a positive social groups. What is generally missing in probationary monitoring or in community re-entry programs are unexpected rewards, friendship, and a sense of social accomplishment. Modern communication technology now provides more options for arranging the social components of such programs. We have written an article in Federal Probation ["Electronic Monitoring: Positive Intervention Strategies," June 2005, vol 69:1, pp. 21-25, that outlines some of our ideas. For the text of that article, click here: .
We continued our efforts to convince folks in the winter (January) 2007 issue of the American Probation and Parole Association's journal, Perspectives and in the winter (February) 2007 issue of the National Association of Probation Executives' Executive Exchange . And here's an article that has a bit more history and predicts the future of electronic monitoring . It will be published in a book tentatively titled Probation and Parole: Current Trends. In the meantime, a one-page article by Gary Wolf appeared in the November, 2007, issue of Wired magazine. An article in Corrections Compendium (volume 32, number 5) has a list of a dozen probation or parole programs that use positive incentives .
1Schwitzbebel, R. K., Schwitzgebel, R. L., Pahnke, W. N., & Hurd, W. S. (1964). A program of research in behavioral electronics. Behavioral Science, 9, 233-238. (We shortened our name to
"Gable" in 1982.)
2Schwitzgebel, R. K. (1965). Streetcorner Research: An Experimental Approach to the Juvenile Delinquent. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
3Schwitzgebel, R. K., & Bird, R. M. (1970). Sociotechnical design factors in remote instrumentation with humans in natural environments. Behavior Research
Methods and Instrumentation, 2, 99-105. Reprinted in R. L. Schwitzgebel and R. K. Schwitzgbebel (Eds.), Psychotechology. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1973.
4Gable, R. K. (1986). Application of personal telemonitoring to current problems in corrections. Journal of Criminal Justice, 14, 167-176.