Survey of all California counties finds conflicting rules, rigid terms, intrusive surveillance
ATTENTION: Reporters covering crime, juvenile court, higher education and the law
WHAT: A new report, Electronic Monitoring of Youth in the California Juvenile Justice System, by the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law; and the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC). The joint report is the first analysis of juvenile electronic monitoring programs in 58 counties statewide.
WHO: Lead authors Catherine Crump, director of Berkeley Law’s Samuelson Clinic and an expert in privacy, data security, and surveillance; Kate Weisburd, director of EBCLC’s Youth Defender Clinic, which represents juveniles in delinquency, school discipline, special education cases; and Christina Koningisor, privacy fellow at Berkeley Law.
DETAILS: Electronic monitoring of youth in the juvenile justice system has proliferated. Although generally perceived as a less punitive alternative to incarceration, electronic monitoring is overly burdensome: it entails home confinement, invasive surveillance, and high fees. Programs include a range of complex rules, from a mere 8 in Solano County to a whopping 56 in Lassen County.
“We learned that the monitors may be setting kids up for failure,” Crump said. “The terms are too onerous, kids are monitored for too long, and the rules are arbitrarily enforced.”
In one case, 12-year old Joe (a pseudonym to protect his identity) was put on probation for trying to steal a kid’s backpack. He was required to wear a GPS monitor for 90 days, but the two-dozen program rules proved too much for him. Joe cycled in and out of jail and ended up wearing the device for 13 months—more than 4 times the original sentence.
Most counties prohibit electronically monitored youth from leaving home except for school, work, court, religious services, or other preapproved activity. But the number and complexity of rules can easily derail participants. These rules may be:
- Rigid: Stringent rules may result in a high number of technical violations, leading to possible arrest and jail time for young people and higher fees for families;
- Duplicative: Participants may be forced to decipher and follow dozens of complex and overlapping rules simultaneously for an electronic monitoring program and probation;
- Biased: In some counties, rules are subjective and prone to bias. E.g., some rules instruct an officer to judge the “trustworthiness” of a family before deciding whether to accept a child into a program.
Financial burdens imposed by electronic monitors disproportionately hurt low-income families. Examples include:
- Program fees: Most counties require a daily, weekly, or monthly fee to wear a monitor. Some also charge fees to apply for the program, to replace lost or damaged equipment, to move, and more;
- Penalty fees: If families can’t afford basic fees, they can apply for waivers. But the process is so complex, they often fail to do it correctly, leading to penalty fees until the case is resolved;
- Telephone fees: Most counties require youth or their families to own a phone. If disconnected, the offender could be incarcerated. For families, this could mean choosing between paying a phone bill or buying essential food or medicine.
Personal privacy violations are also a concern. Despite the scope and invasiveness of the data collected by electronic monitors, most programs fail to address privacy at all.
These are a few examples of the report’s more than two dozen findings about California’s electronic monitoring programs for young offenders. Go here for a copy of the report, key findings, and program rules by county.
Media Contact: Susan Gluss, firstname.lastname@example.org, (510) 642-6936