Wednesday, August 29, 2012

GPS: Criminal Justice Hero or Criminal Justice Zero

Click here to read the new blog post from Brian Nairin.

GPS, or Global Positioning System devices, have become one of the fastest growing consumer products in recent history.  Whether they are imbedded in your smart phone to let people know where you are or whether they sit on the dashboard of your car to prevent you from getting lost, GPS devices are becoming more entrenched into our everyday lives.  The question now becomes:  where does GPS make sense and where doesn’t it?  For example, the criminal justice system has embraced GPS as the Second Coming and is now moving towards implementing it in more ways each and every day.  As a citizen of the US and an active member of my local community, I have to ask: how can GPS by itself be the cure-all solution for the problems that ail our criminal justice system?

I have been connected to the criminal justice system for most of my adult life.  I have seen new ideas and technologies come and go like the seasons changing throughout the year.  While some stick and become commonplace, others come and go faster than you can say “change.”  But some go on and on trying to re-invent themselves and reposition themselves until they are able to stick a little bit stronger with the public.  GPS is one of those concepts.  While on the surface, the idea of having the ability to track an individual is great. However, the reality of doing so in an effective way is where the challenge lies for GPS being, as it claims it is the solution for things like jail overcrowding.  Here are just some of the out-points of this cure-all technology:

  • GPS tracks the person, but no one tracks the GPS.
    While GPS is capable of tracking the location of a person down to their placement on a sidewalk, the big question really is less about that and more about who is monitoring the GPS device so that a crime can be prevented.  There have been countless reports of people who have gone outside of house arrest or who have violated an exclusion zone (an area they must avoid as part of their release agreement) and committed a crime, but no one knows that the violation occurred (or much less that it is about to occur) because no one is monitoring the system.

  • GPS tells you where the defendant was when they cut off the device.
    Many opponents of GPS monitoring believe that the above statement is a big reason why GPS fails.  Defendants sometimes cut off the device and then disappear….only to be caught again after committing another crime and creating another crime victim.  All the device tells a monitor is where the defendant was when he cut the bracelet off. 

  • GPS does not prevent crime, but rather just tracks it.
    Since you can only see the location of the person, all GPS really does is tell you where they are and not what they are doing.

These are but three shortcomings of GPS and also three big questions that need to be answered before we can truly see it as an effective means of tracking and monitoring defendants. 
I believe that there is a solution to increasing the effectiveness of a GPS device. It is a solution that has proven itself time and time again to be the most effective element in the criminal justice system and the only element that actually provides a guarantee of performance.  That solution is to couple the new technology (GPS) with the historically proven effectiveness of the commercial bail industry.  What makes the commercial bail industry such an effective solution for the criminal justice system is that it creates accountability.  Accountability with the defendant. Accountability with the family, friends and potentially the colleagues of the defendant.  And most importantly, accountability with an AM BEST rated insurance company and its independent insurance agent (the bail agent) who provides the product to the consumer.  When you couple these things with the ability to track a person through a GPS device, you get a superior result within the pretrial release process.  If the defendant wearing the device fails to perform, there is an insurance company that must pay the bail amount to the county. But when you couple GPS with another government run, taxpayer funded program that places un-invested, 9 to 5 employees in charge of tracking and monitoring defendants you get an inferior program that will not only leave defendants unaccountable but also leave the public less safe.
Once again, I encourage key decision makers to bring the commercial bail industry to the table when discussing ways to improve the system.  It brings a level of experience, knowledge and success that can be leveraged in ways to improve the effectiveness of pretrial release and improve the safety of our communities.  All local officials must be willing to do is ask. 


  1. The GPS Hero or Zero article by a major industry supervisor, Mr. Nairin addressed the best points and some value of surety bail agents' ensuring the orderly process of trial. Its good AIAs Brian Nairin writes for the benefit of our industry but think it too hurts us tremendously. Our value and outreach is eliminated in many forums where we want to be and where we serve a highest value, and at their pleasure. Why again use quips or spanking identifier against, 9-5 employees of gov't sponsored agencies with judicial support duties. Yea, we get it but these unexplained comments dismiss us and label us. Remember the Alamo and Viva la bonne surety.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I understand your concern about the bail industry being left out of important forums and how you think my comments have the potential to alienate our industry further. However, while I share this concern, I must also disagree with you. For far too long the bail bond industry has sat on the sidelines for fear of saying the wrong things and let pretrial services and their propaganda machines put out false claims and inaccuracies about our industry. I think it is time for the bail industry to speak up and start not only defending our industry but proactively recommending solutions to the many challenges facing the criminal justice system. Intelligent constructive discussion around the failures of pretrial’s programs is not a conversation blocker, but rather a conversation starter. GPS systems can be a valuable tool if utilized in correct way. Unfortunately the pretrial community thinks they can just put a bracelet on someone and then say that the community is safer. But as you and I know, all a GPS device does if not monitored correctly and closely (and there are plenty of instances of pretrial GPS defendants not doing this) is tell you where the person was when they cut off the device. When the person monitoring the device has no skin in the game and is not being held accountable in a financial way, the results are inferior. That being said, the use of GPS can be effective when utilized with the proper complementary add-ons…things like a financially secured bond to ensure that the bail agent, the family and others are on the hook for the performance of the defendant. I see nothing wrong with informing the public of the current systems deficiencies and the bail industry’s solutions. Our value and outreach efforts need to be communicated with truth and facts while addressing the myths and mis-information. And the truth is that a bail bond agent is more capable, more incentivized and more successful at ensuring the appearance of a defendant in court than a government employee who has no skin in the game or incentive to ensure that appearance…and yes, they are on a 9-5 schedule that doesn’t exist in the bail world and that is a huge point of difference. I believe that spreading the truth about the effectiveness our industry does not close doors but rather open them. Once again, thank you for your comment.