Electronic Ankle Monitors Are Driving Defendants into Debt

As of today, the United States still has the highest incarceration rate in the world. That is why ankle bracelets are now being used as an alternative to incarceration.

An example of an electronic ankle monitor.
Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia

Through electronic monitoring devices, the US is now expanding house arrest programs successfully. They believe that these devices are part of the solution to the overcrowded prison in the US.

However, these electronic monitoring devices are driving defendants into debt. Ankle bracelets are costly. You get charged a monthly fee for this surveillance device if you don’t want to stay behind bars.

Most ex-convicts eventually returned to jail because of non-payment for the monitoring device.

Here are some instances where electronic monitoring devices drove people into debt.

Daehaun White, 19 years old

White, being a careless teen, drove a stolen chevy which, according to him, was lent by a friend. He had no previous convictions. He wasn’t even aware that it was a stolen car. All he knew was he was driving his friends around.

They charged him with tampering a motor vehicle and driving a car without the owner’s consent. He was then sent to St. Louis’ Medium Security Institution, a city jail known as the Workhouse.

White stayed there overnight. They released him the next morning but not before they paid the $1,500 bond which he or his family couldn’t afford.

Erika Wurst, his public defender, persuaded the judge to lower the bond to $500 cash. Since his family still couldn’t afford it, The Bail Project, a non-profit fund, paid it for him.

Here’s what he had to say after the bond was paid.

“Once they said I was getting released, I was so excited I stopped listening.”

However, on the day of his release, a prison guard handed him a letter from his public defender.

He thought he would walk free until he realized there was a catch. The judge had ordered him to wear an ankle monitor that would track his location at every moment using GPS. Of course, this device doesn’t come cheap. The private company Eastern Missouri Alternative Sentencing or EMASS, charges $10 per day for the ankle monitor to work.

In short, White would have to pay $350 to EMASS just to get the monitor attached and to cover the first 25 days. This leaves him with no choice. Either he pays, or he stays in jail.

Daehaun White came from a poor family. He couldn’t even afford to pay rent without having to work two jobs. When he wasn’t able to pay EMASS, the judge issued a warrant for his arrest a week after he left the Workhouse.

Three days later, White was arrested. The police officers didn’t tell him what the warrant was for. He was just transferred back to the Workhouse. He recalled saying:

“Why am I locked up, again?”

To get him out, his mother, Lakisha Thompson needed to pay EMASS on his behalf. This all seemed unbelievable to her. She felt that they were forcing her to choose between getting her son out of prison or supporting the rest of her family. She chose to bail him out, but White still needs to continue paying for the ankle monitor to work.

Three months after the installation of White’s ankle monitor, the court finally allowed its removal.

However, when he showed up to EMASS to have it removed, they wouldn’t take it off until White paid his debt. EMASS was asking him to pay at least half of the $700 he owed. He still couldn’t take off his monitor because of his debts. He doesn’t even have to have it on, but he can’t get it taken off unless he pays his balance.

According to White, he had already sold his laptop, phone, and TV. Unfortunately, the cash went to rent, food, and his daughter. What’s left was still not enough to pay what he owed to EMASS.

Still, he tried paying EMASS all the cash he had. When he went to the company, they unclipped the band from his ankle with no hesitation. Although he still owes EMASS some cash, he wasn’t sure why they had now softened their approach.

When they calculated the money, White still owes $755, plus a 10% annual interest. When he looked at the receipt, here’s the only thing he could say.

“I get in trouble for living…for being me.”

Robert Jackson, A Father of Three

Jackson already spent 4 days into a 120-day sentence in an Alameda County jail when his wife unexpectedly passed away. His incarceration and his wife’s sudden passing left his three young children without a parent at home.

On this premise, the courts allowed his release on the condition that he wore an ankle monitor. This monitoring device will be managed by Leaders in Community Alternatives (LCA).

Jackson was being charged $250 per week for monitoring fees. He could hardly afford it since his weekly paycheck was only $400-$500. For the first 113 days, they repeatedly threatened him to go back to jail if he didn’t pay. He was forced to sell his car and give up his apartment just so he could pay his debts to LCA.

Yes, he paid the monitoring fees, but it left his family homeless. This was such a tragedy to Jackson’s family. Imagine being kicked out of your apartment when you’re still mourning from the sudden loss of a loved one.

William Edwards, A Cancer Patient

Edwards was battling cancer when he was locked in jail while awaiting trial. Due to non-access to chemotherapy pills, his health got compromised.

He was one of the not-so-lucky individuals to be granted freedom in exchange for wearing an ankle monitor.

Although he can access his cancer medications, LCA demanded him 20% of his weekly income for the monitoring fees. We all know how expensive medications are. Edwards was also one of the many convicts who experienced repeated threats if he didn’t come up with the money.

After several hearings, the charges against him were eventually dropped. Unfortunately, he still owes LCA debts since the cost of his ankle monitor remained.

Truth be told, there are lots of people who are now buried in debt because of this suggested alternative. Electronic monitoring has been widely used for the past decades. So, imagine how many are they who financially and emotionally suffered from these private companies just to have them monitored.

There was an interview taken from the judges of St. Louis about the court’s philosophy for using an electronic monitoring device. A city judge, David Roither said:

“I really don’t use it very often because people here are too poor to pay for it.”

Yet, Judge Rex Burlison, a presiding judge, said that people get arrested because of their “life choices”. He also added that,

“Whether they’re good for the charge or not, they’re still arrested and have to deal with it, and part of dealing with it is the finances.”

According to the judge, releasing defendants without the GPS just because they can’t afford it, is like disregarding the safety of the community.

“We can’t just release everybody because they’re poor.”

It really is hard being poor. Even if you’re not yet proven guilty, once you become a victim of the system, you can’t do anything at all.

Like ankle monitors, exorbitant jail services are also driving many inmate families into debt. This is why JailAid was founded. Our extensive resource of cheap jail call and jail mail postcard alternatives are extremely useful to both the inmate and their families. They can also use our database to look for prison support groups near them.

About Franchette Jardin

Agatha has done some extensive research in the past about prison and life inside one. Now she writes prison-related articles to help inmates cope and begin a better life after.