Electronic Monitoring of Parolees and Other Offenders Debated at Barry Square Meeting
October 25 TO November 1, 2006
By ANDY HART, The Hartford News Staff Writer
Would tracking the movements of parolees and persons released on bail with a Geographic Positioning System (GPS) be an infringement on constitutional rights or a necessary step to reduce both crime and the cost of our prison system?
That question was hotly debated at a recent meeting of the Maple Avenue Revitalization Group (MARG) at St. Augustine’s Church.
Representatives from the Citizens Against Crime Coalition (CACC) made a presentation at the meeting on GPS monitoring. CACC Chairman Arthur Spada, former Commissioner of Public Safety, said the group wants a pilot electronic monitoring program implemented in Hartford.
According to a petition handed out by the CACC at the meeting, the monitoring would be used on: “inmates released to Hartford during their probation or parole period; felons released on bail; individuals charged with domestic violence and crimes against children; and individuals charged with other serious crimes that are hazardous to the community.” The petition requests members of Hartford’s legislative delegation to support the monitoring program.
One member of that delegation, State Representative Art Feltman (6th District), was present at the meeting and voiced concerns about the program.
Spada confronted Feltman, saying, “Arthur, I hope you are going to be supportive of this.”
“I’m not,” responded Feltman, who questioned the constitutionality of the monitoring program as he feels it would infringe on a person’s freedom of travel.
According to Spada and other members of the CACC, in addition to tracking a person’s movements 24 hours a day, the monitoring systems can set up zones where the person being monitored cannot go. For instance, Spada said, a husband who had threatened his wife would not be allowed to go within a certain radius of her home and/or place of business. If he did so, the monitoring system would immediately alert law enforcement personnel. This would be far more effective than a restraining order, which Spada said, “aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.”
Spada added that the monitoring system would be a condition of someone being release on bail or parole. If the person in question would rather stay in prison than be released and monitored by the GPS system, that would be his or her choice, said Spada.
He added, “How anyone can oppose what our sister states are doing, what the federal government is doing...is beyond me.”
Feltman said that problems with the current system of dealing with released prisoners and accused persons out on bail should be addressed before the monitoring system is adopted, such as more parole officers, drug treatment programs and job training.
Spada said that prisoners convicted of less serious crimes could be released from jail earlier if they agreed to be subject to the monitoring system, thereby reducing the amount of money the state currently spends on its prison system. He added that the pilot project for Hartford that he and other members of the CACC are proposing would cost between $5-6 million.
Hyacinth Yennie, President of MARG, said that about 65 of the 80 people who attended the meeting signed the CACC petition.
Yennie also said that although the monitoring program would be a step toward making city neighborhoods safer, it should be coupled with increased services. “We can’t just put a bracelet on them and then just throw them out on the streets. We have to see what they need in terms of job training, housing, drug addiction services and so on and address those needs...if you put those type of things together with the monitoring system, then I think they [the CACC] will get the legislators to support it.”
Feltman said he and several others will speak at the next MARG meeting on Thursday, November 9, to discuss other ways that the state could use to improve its system for dealing with paroled prisoners. Among those speakers will be Fr. Lou Paturzo, who runs a program in Hartford that serves about 80 released prisoners annually.
Feltman pointed out that the legislature recently approved $19 million for programs for released prisoners. “This is the first time the legislature has put significant re¬sources behind re-entry programs. Are we ready to give up on it this soon?”
Spada said the CACC will be meeting with a group of ministers from North Hartford next month to push the monitoring program and will also present their case to several legislative leaders. “If we could get this [the GPS monitoring system] passed, crime would be dramatically reduced,” said Spada