Lost Signals, Disconnected Lives

Mario Koran
March 24, 2013

James Morgan and Aaron Hicks were convicted of violent sex crimes and served many years in prison.

Now they are on parole, living in Madison neighborhoods, attending treatment groups and wearing Global Positioning System (GPS) ankle monitors — tracking that, under Wisconsin law, will continue for the rest of their lives.

But Morgan, Hicks and 11 other offenders interviewed for this story say that Wisconsin’s GPS tracking system repeatedly fails, registering false alerts and landing the offenders in jail although they have done nothing wrong.

“There are times when I’m afraid to leave whatever room I’m in, even to go to the bathroom,” said Morgan, 53, who served 26 years in prison for sexual assault and other crimes.

“I’m afraid an alert will go off and the police will show up at my door.”

On July 31, Morgan stood in his Madison bedroom with a Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism photographer. On several occasions, his GPS monitor began flashing, indicating he was out of range, even though Morgan was in his own home and well within boundaries determined by his parole agent.

Advocates for released prisoners say that GPS breakdowns waste taxpayers’ money with unnecessary police work and lockups, and they hamper offenders’ efforts to restore relationships with their families and retain jobs.

Even the people who make the GPS technology acknowledge that signals can be lost due to weather conditions, tall buildings and car travel.

A key legislator, the chairman of the Assembly Committee on Corrections, said he was unaware of any problems with the state’s GPS monitoring system. But he was concerned by the Center’s findings, and said that an audit may be in order.

“Yes, I think it would be proper to inquire about the accuracy and effectiveness of our monitoring system if offenders are indeed experiencing these problems,” said state Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay.

But Bies, a former Door County sheriff’s deputy, added, “I really don’t have a whole lot of sympathy” for sexual offenders and whatever “inconvenience” they may have to endure.

State Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, says he doesn’t have much sympathy for whatever “inconvenience” sex offenders endure. But he was concerned by the Center’s findings and said they may warrant an audit of the GPS monitoring system. Kate Golden/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

As of February, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections was using GPS technology to track 638 offenders. According to DOC spokeswoman Jackie Guthrie, “The majority are sex offenders with a very small number being offenders convicted of domestic violence or other violent crimes.” She was unable to provide a breakdown.

And GPS monitoring in Wisconsin is projected to expand by nearly 50 percent over the next two years.

A Wisconsin state law passed last April, set to take full effect in 2014, allows judges to require GPS tracking for offenders who violate a domestic abuse or harassment temporary restraining order or injunction.

Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget recommends $10 million in new funding for expanded use of GPS tracking in fiscal years 2014 and 2015 — to monitor 783 individuals the first year and 939 the second year….

Source: http://www.wisconsinwatch.org/2013/03/24/lost-signals-disconnected-lives/