Voices from the Inside Out: Let’s try electronic monitoring

October 7, 2023

Electronic monitoring is the use of automatic, remote technology to track the exact location and current activity of selected individuals in real time. For an ever-expanding population of prison inmates in the U.S., the potential intrusiveness of an electronic monitoring system is a small sacrifice that allows inmates to be home to provide for their families who need them, instead of wasting their lives in the decay that is prison. Electronic monitoring is a viable, workable, reasonable alternative to the current U.S. policy of mass incarceration and mandatory minimum sentences. It costs less to implement and maintain, and it strengthens social and family bonds by allowing a family to remain whole.

Unless you or a family member are currently incarcerated, what you have read so far may not mean much to you. It should. Mass incarceration and mandatory minimum sentences are costing you a lot of money. The cost of housing a single inmate at a U.S. federal prison is about $78,000 per year.

Fortunately, modern technology can virtually guarantee the safety of the general public, can effectively and sanely punish criminals, and can provide both of these services at a fraction of the historical cost. Releasing inmates from prison through a comprehensive electronic monitoring program is a reasonable, sensible, safe approach whose time has come.

Electronic monitoring programs can be implemented by any of several methods: ankle bracelet, “smart” watch, etc. I am certainly no technophile. All I know is that this technology works. The government has for many years surreptitiously and often illegally monitored the habits, movements, and activities of law-abiding citizens. Does it not make sense that the same government might show equal zeal in monitoring released prison inmates, instead of spending $78,000 or more per year keeping them locked up?


I am in no way advocating the indiscriminate throwing open of the prison gates. Unfortunately, there is a need for prisons that will never be totally eliminated. However, the vast majority of inmates could successfully be released from prison and return to their families, jobs, and societal responsibilities through participation in an electronic monitoring program. They would then be contributing to the U.S. economy instead of being a drain on it. We often hear that convicted criminals owe a debt to society. Give us a chance to pay it!

Detractors and opponents of electronic monitoring cite possible pitfalls such as vindictive and overzealous probation authorities, unrealistic fees for program participation, and associated hardware/software problems as reasons to dismiss the program’s value and discourage its use. These are legitimate potential concerns that should not be taken lightly. However, the point is, that’s exactly what they are—potential concerns. Prison is a reality—every single moment of every day. I, for one, would gladly and eagerly trade the certain, sure, and daily injustice of prison for the potential pitfalls of electronic monitoring.

–Timothy P. Koenck

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