Friday, March 27, 2009

Study reveals conflicting attitudes about electronic monitoring

TT Note: Do the crime, pay the time. I guess the question becomes where you pay it?

Minority college students have significantly different attitudes about electronic monitoring devices used to punish criminal offenders than white students, according to a new study by Brian Payne, chair of the Criminal Justice Department at Georgia State University.

Payne, who surveyed 599 students at two universities in southeastern Virginia, found that while white students believe that the tracking device is too lenient, black students are more likely to agree that electronic monitoring is a severe punishment that turns the home into a prison.

“In these tough budget times there have been some states that have looked at jails and prison populations and say we are letting you out in 90 days, but we’re putting you on electronic monitoring,” Payne said. “It’s a growing type of technology and it would help if the public had a better understanding about the sanction and saw it as a viable tool that would assist with the reintegration of offenders at some point and not something that was a slap on the wrist.”

Matthew DeMichele of University of Kentucky, Nonso Okafo of Norfolk University, and Payne surveyed students with questions such as whether electronic monitoring deters crime or if the tool ensures that an offender is punished.

Among the findings, the researchers revealed that 45 percent of white students were more likely to agree that electronic monitoring deters misconduct, as compared to 37 percent of blacks.
Many of the attitudinal differences among the students can be attributed to perceptions about the inequality that minorities see in the application of the electronic monitoring, Payne said. For instance, nearly half of the black students said that the punishment was unfair because wealthier offenders stay in nicer arrangements. Black students also agreed that electronic monitoring perpetuates a racist system, discriminates against the poor and is more likely to be given to wealthy offenders.

Payne, who has been studying electronic monitoring for more than a decade, has also studied offender perceptions of being on parole with a tracking device.

“Offenders that we talked to said that it was better than jail, but it was like jail,” Payne said. “But since then there have been studies interviewing people who were in prison, and those people were saying they prefer to be in prison than on probation. Particularly minorities and those who had prior experience in the criminal justice system were the ones that tended to see prison more favorably than sanctions like electronic monitoring.”

Understanding the differences in the way that different groups perceive electronic monitoring can aid policymakers to develop public awareness campaigns and counter misconceptions, Payne said. The study may also help probation officers better understand the way perception plays a role in how offenders experience punishment and how cultural influences may dictate the probation or parole experience.

“Like other kinds of sanctions electronic monitoring is sometimes used when it shouldn’t be used,” Payne said. “It’s not a perfect kind of sanction and it shouldn’t be expected to solve problems on its own. It requires a great deal of effort from probation parole officers and it’s just one tool that they have available.”

Payne’s study was published in the Journal of Criminal Justice. He is currently working on a study about the use of global positioning systems and sex offenders.

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