A Modern Approach to Supervision and Criminal Justice


Technological innovation has revolutionized various sectors, including criminal justice, where we see profound impacts in the realm of offender monitoring and control. A key advancement in this area is the integration of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology into electronic monitoring (EM) devices. This development provides an effective method for tracking the movements of individuals under supervision in the community, ranging from pretrial defendants to parolees. This article provides an in-depth examination of GPS electronic monitoring, its workings, potential benefits, and the broader implications for the criminal justice system.

The Emergence and Evolution of GPS Electronic Monitoring

Electronic monitoring devices have been used in criminal justice since the 1980s, initially utilizing radio frequency (RF) technology. RF-based systems, however, only enabled authorities to determine if an offender was present at a designated location (typically their home) at specific times, providing limited supervision capacity.

With the advent and proliferation of GPS technology, electronic monitoring underwent a significant evolution. The first generation of GPS monitors emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s, offering the ability to track the continuous movements of an individual in real-time. Over the years, these devices have been refined, becoming smaller, more accurate, and more reliable.

Mechanics of GPS Electronic Monitoring

GPS electronic monitors are typically ankle-worn devices that use satellite technology to track the wearer’s location. They operate by receiving signals from a network of satellites orbiting the Earth. The monitor calculates its distance from several of these satellites and uses this information to determine the wearer’s exact location.

Modern GPS monitoring systems often incorporate other technologies, such as cellular networks, to communicate data in real-time to a monitoring center. This enables authorities to receive instant alerts if the wearer enters or exits specified zones (known as inclusion or exclusion zones) or if the device is tampered with.

Effectiveness and Implications for Criminal Justice

The use of GPS electronic monitoring within the criminal justice system offers several benefits. These include:

  1. Enhanced Supervision: Unlike traditional RF-based monitoring, GPS monitoring provides authorities with the ability to continuously track an offender’s movements. This facilitates more comprehensive supervision and quicker response times when violations occur.
  2. Improved Compliance: The knowledge that their location is being continuously monitored can act as a deterrent for offenders, encouraging them to adhere to the terms of their supervision.
  3. Reduced Incarceration Costs: GPS monitoring provides a less costly alternative to incarceration. According to a report from the American Correctional Association, the daily cost of GPS monitoring is significantly lower than the daily cost of keeping an offender in jail or prison.

However, GPS monitoring is not without its challenges and criticisms. These include technical issues (such as signal loss), potential invasions of privacy, and the risk of over-supervision or net-widening, where more individuals are placed under more intensive supervision than necessary.


GPS electronic monitoring represents a major step forward in the field of offender supervision, blending technology and criminal justice in an innovative way. However, it is crucial that this tool is used judiciously and ethically, with ongoing evaluation and adaptation to ensure it effectively meets its objectives while respecting individuals’ rights.

As technological capabilities continue to advance, it is anticipated that GPS electronic monitoring will become more sophisticated, further transforming how we approach community supervision in the criminal justice system. Future research should focus on the optimal application of this technology and the development of best practices to address the challenges that arise.

Overall, GPS electronic monitoring exemplifies the potential for technology to reshape our approach to criminal justice, paving the way for a system that is more efficient, adaptable, and responsive to the needs of all stakeholders.