Missoula has just become the second Montana city (Billings being the first) to start using GPS shackles to ” track accused – or convicted – offenders.” Apparently, Missoula’s system is going to be an “active” or real-time tracking system, while the system used by Alternatives, Inc., in Billings is “passive,” meaning it only uploads data to officials when the shackled person plugs the unit into a base station at home. The Municipal Court is the only court that really ever orders the shackle in Billings (knock wood).
While it’s true that these shackles may be a way to reduce jail overcrowding, there are often better, cheaper, more just solutions to that problem. As the article notes:
the solution to the Missoula County jail’s overcrowding problems is not as simple as strapping a tracking device to an offender’s ankle. Part of the solution includes encouraging law enforcement to cite and release more offenders, providing those who are jailed with more opportunities to post bail, and increasing the limited number of offenders who qualify for supervision within the community.
Kudos to Chelsi Moy and The Missoulian for pointing that out. The legislature could also help out by revising some misdemeanor statutes to remove jail time from the list of possible penalties—replace it with community service, fines, or other penalties. (This would also have the effect of reducing public defender caseloads, thus saving taxpayers money on multiple fronts.)
Two things the article does not make clear are: 1) who is paying for this “service”? and 2) How many people are being ordered to wear these shackles before trial? In Billings, if you’re one of the lucky 20-30 people wearing a shackle at any one time, you may have the pleasure of paying $150/month as a base cost for the privilege, plus you’ll definitely pay $15/day for every day you’re ordered to wear the thing. Payment due a week at a time, one week in advance, please. Oh, and if you don’t pay, the Municipal Court will gladly cooperate with the request from Alternatives, Inc., to throw you in jail. Nevermind that it’s illegal for you to go to jail just for being poor. Yeah, forget about that.
The other thing that happens in Billings is that the Municipal Court frequently orders innocent people to wear these shackles while they are awaiting trial. So, in addition to paying a bond to get out of jail (because
almost no one a too few of those arrested in Billings gets a Notice to Appear — everyone goes a large number go to jail first and must pay bond; release on a person’s own recognizance is exceedingly far too rare), if you’re accused of a misdemeanor in Billings you might also have to pay $450-600/month for the privilege of being in the community while you await your trial. And that’s not to mention the indignity of having your every move tracked by satellite. So much for the presumption of innocence!
Here’s hoping Missoula doesn’t adopt these abhorrent practices as it begins using its own version of these shackles.
Ed. Note: This post edited as shown above to reduce hyperbole.