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Walking a mile in their ankle monitors

You have to admire this kind of dedication to one’s office.

Though she has never been convicted of a crime, Marsha McLane is having her every movement these days tracked by a satellite-monitored anklet, just like thousands of ex-cons in Texas.

Charged with rebuilding a little-known state agency that supervises high-risk sex offenders, she is looking for a better, high-tech way to keep track of them.

“I’m a nuts and bolts person. … I had to see for myself how the system would work,” she said Monday, after spending five days unsuccessfully trying to foil a new GPS-based monitoring system her agency is considering buying. “If I can’t fool it, knowing what I know, I think it’ll be hard for an offender to do it.”

Last Thursday, the new executive director of the embattled Office of Violent Sex Offender Management strapped on a 3M XT monitor that allows officials to have two-way communication with an offender the instant an alarm goes off indicating he is not where he is supposed to be.

Unlike traditional GPS-based monitors that set off alarms if an offender goes outside of approved zones, or strays too far from the base unit, the new system features a cellphone-sized handset in addition to the anklet that allows the offender to contact his caseworker or other approved numbers if the alarm goes off. Caseworkers and officials monitoring the units can call them as well.

“Right now, when a bracelet alarm goes off, we have no way to contact the offender except to send a caseworker out there to check the offender,” agency Programs Director Kathy Drake said. “This appears to be a much more efficient way to verify their status, much less labor intensive, much faster.”

Records show the agency had 1,300 alarms go off between September and May that turned out to be nothing other than a satellite glitch or an equipment malfunction or something else as benign.

“You can see the savings to the taxpayers if we can check out alarms quickly without having to make the trip,” McLane said.

Makes sense to me. I’ve talked about ankle monitors before. They have their issues, but they can be used to help keep low-risk and non-violent offenders out of jail, which is a win all around. They can also be used as in this case for monitoring offenders that have additional conditions after being released from prison. If the technology has improved and if the supervisors and probation officers that handle the offenders that use them really know how they operate, then so much the better. Kudos to Marsha McLane for her attention to detail.

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