Ankle-monitoring faces budget, privacy concerns

A state ankle-monitoring system for domestic violence offenders is facing challenges in the form of a tight budget and questions about civil liberties.

In 2010, Connecticut State Sen. Mae Flexer, chair of the Speaker’s Task Force on Domestic Violence, first helped to pass legislation for a pilot program that tracks domestic violence offenders with GPS ankle monitors. While the program has been hailed as a success by proponents, it must grapple with declining federal funds and potential civil liberty and privacy infringement.

In the cities of Hartford, Bridgeport and Danielson — the three participants in the pilot program — a total of 168 domestic violence offenders have been installed with a GPS anklet monitor. Those installed with the device are usually high-risk offenders.

The device notifies a victim when an offender is within 5,000 feet — at 2,500 feet, the victim is alerted and local police are called to the location.

So far, proponents have described the program as a success, boasting no injuries or deaths since it began three years ago.

“In high-risk cases, it is very effective in keeping victims safe,” said Karen Jarmoc, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Often, restraining orders placed on domestic violence offenders are ignored and victims end up being hurt or killed. With the GPS device, Jarmoc said, “offenders know that there will be consequences” and that they will have to “go back to court,” among other things.

In 2010, a federal grant helped fund one year of the pilot program, which costs about $500,000 annually, with a projected $1.9 million budget should the project expand statewide.

“It’s a very expensive but successful [program],” said Jarmoc. “In a time of limited resources, we have to be careful in putting our resources in the right places.”

Other places like Staten Island that have also started similar GPS tracking programs require the abusers to pay the price. Initially, the Connecticut pilot program was to be funded in a similar manner.

However, the price of $22 a day was often more than offenders could afford. Since federal funds ran out, the program has been kept alive by the Connecticut Judiciary Department’s budget.

Despite the program’s success, there have been concerns over the legality of placing GPS tracking devices on people.

“We feel strongly that the court should issue a warrant before putting a GPS on anyone,” American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut spokeswoman Jeanne Leblanc said. A judge in a participating Connecticut city must issue an order for an offender to be put into a GPS ankle monitor.

Jarmoc said that those fitted with GPS devices are “individuals who have been arrested for domestic violence, which is a felony in the state of Connecticut” who have “demonstrated that they are a threat.” As a result, the program does not violate civil liberties, he said.

Legislators who support the program, such as State Sen. John A. Kissel, are working to expand the program beyond the three participating cities and into all of Connecticut.

On average, Connecticut sees 40,000 complaints of violence annually, with one-third of those cases related to domestic violence and 15 of the domestic violence cases resulting in death.

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