Defense Department satellites designed to help guide nuclear missiles hang in geosynchronous orbit 12,500 miles above. The network of 24 military satellites hasn't been used much raining thermonuclear destruction on godless communists since the end of the Cold War. So, the Pentagon started leasing satellite time to private companies, like the one that uses them to monitor people on parole and probation.
"It's bullets to plowshares," said Jack Lamb, president and CEO of Advanced Business Sciences, Inc., in an interview with USA Today writer Gary Fields published April 8, 1999. Lamb's Omaha, Nebraska, company uses its ComTrak monitoring system to follow 100 people in nine states. The cost for monitoring sex offenders in Chicago to juvenile delinquents in New Jersey is $12.50 each per day.
The ComTrak system consists of a wristwatch-sized bracelet, a three-pound tracking unit resembling a portable telephone, and a battery charger/base unit kept at the monitored person's home. The base unit sends information by telephone to a monitoring center. Take off the bracelet or move more than 50 feet from the tracking unit and an alarm goes off at the center.
The system is used to set up zones where the monitored person can and can't go. Sexual predators can be excluded from schools or parks, drunk drivers banned from bars, abusive spouses forbidden from stalking their mate at home or work. The monitoring center is automatically notified of any "out of bounds" violations and alerts authorities immediately, according to the article.
With more than 4 million people on some type of supervision in the US alone, Lamb sees the room for growth as "phenomenal." Some 11,000 people are currently under house arrest using older technology that is both more costly and less reliable, according to Lamb.
Perey Luney, Jr., president of the National Judicial College at the University of Nevada, Reno, which trains judges in areas including alternative sentencing, says the ComTrak system "gives judges an option for keeping people out of jail and away from all the negative influences there." It's also a cost saver for the taxpayer.
While many in the criminal justice system applaud the next generation monitoring technology, there are some who are reminded of the ominous future of George Orwell's 1984. While conceding ComTrak has the power "to change the face of law enforcement and incarceration," according to USA Today, Paul Rothstein, Georgetown University law professor, worries about its potential for creating a monster. Rothstein thinks such advances in technology won't be used to monitor just those on parole. "You could end up with the majority of the population under some kind of surveillance by the government," he said.
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