The Future of Electronic Monitoring in the U.S. Criminal Justice System

Electronic monitoring, or EM, is a form of community supervision that allows authorities to monitor the whereabouts and activities of individuals who are under some form of legal restraint. EM technology has been used in the U.S. criminal justice system for several decades, primarily as a means of enforcing house arrest or tracking individuals who are on parole or probation. However, recent advances in technology and changing attitudes towards criminal justice reform have led many experts to predict that electronic monitoring will play an increasingly important role in the criminal justice system in the years to come.

One key area where EM is expected to grow in importance is in pretrial supervision. As research has shown, pretrial detention can have significant negative consequences for defendants, including lost jobs, damaged relationships, and increased likelihood of reoffending. EM can provide a less restrictive alternative to pretrial detention, allowing defendants to remain in the community while still ensuring that they attend court hearings and comply with other conditions of release.

Another area where EM is likely to see increased use is in post-conviction supervision. As an alternative to incarceration, electronic monitoring can provide an effective means of monitoring individuals who are on probation or parole, while also reducing the burden on parole officers and other elements of the criminal justice system .

Advances in technology are also expected to lead to new applications for electronic monitoring. For example, some experts predict that biometric monitoring, such as fingerprint or facial recognition technology, could be used to ensure that individuals are complying with their EM requirements. Facial recognition is indeed being rolled out on a limited basis in certain EM contexts already, like with SCRAM systems remote breath devices.

However, there are also concerns about the potential negative consequences of increased reliance on electronic monitoring. For example, there are concerns about the potential for over-surveillance, privacy violations, and the disproportionate impact that EM can have on low-income and minority communities.

In order to fully realize the potential of electronic monitoring in the criminal justice system, it will be important to balance these concerns with the potential benefits of this technology. This will require ongoing research, evaluation, and discussion among stakeholders in the criminal justice system.


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  • Nellis, A. (2013). The use of electronic monitoring in the criminal justice system. The Sentencing Project.