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Florida Awards Contracts Putting Sex Offenders on GPS Supervision; Other States to Follow

The Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) has awarded three contracts for Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite monitoring of sex offenders. The contracts come on the heels on legislation that allocated $3.9 million over a three-year period to put certain sex offenders on lifetime GPS supervision, even if their sentences or parole terms have expired.
Two of the contracts will keep constant watch over child sexual predators as part of the Jessica Lunsford Act, which was named for a 9-year-old girl who was kidnapped and killed by a registered sex offender in February 2005. The Lundsford Act was passed unanimously by the Florida legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush on May 2, 2005. It requires a minimum 25-year sentence for offenders convicted of sexually assaulting a child 12 or younger plus lifetime electronic monitoring upon release, and expanded monitoring of sex offenders who commit crimes against older children. The act only applies prospectively; i.e., to crimes committed from the date of the legislation forward, but could apply to released sex offenders currently under state supervision.

The GPS monitoring contracts were initially awarded to Satellite Tracking of People (STOP) for northern Florida, and G4S Justice Services, a division of U.K.-based Group 4 Securicor, for southern Florida. However, on Sept. 6, 2005, after two weeks of field testing, STOP abruptly withdrew its bid. Previously, STOP had complained that the state's specifications for a two-piece monitoring device favored rival companies, since STOP used a one-piece device. After the company filed a protest in July, state officials removed the challenged wording and STOP made the lowest bid. Neither the company nor the state commented on whether problems arose with STOP's GPS equipment during the trial testing period, or explained why the company quit.

Following STOP's withdrawal from the bidding process, iSECUREtrac Corp. was awarded the GPS monitoring contract for the northern half of Florida in November 2005. This is a very significant win for us," said Tom Wharton, CEO of iSECUREtrac Corp. "We are proud to work with States like Florida that are so focused on public safety."

According to FDOC documents, about 1,200 offenders will be subject to GPS supervision by September 1, 2005, and as many as 10,000 offenders within three years. Under a third contract awarded to Advanced Public Safety, a division of Motorola, Inc., reported crimes will be matched with monitored offenders who are in the same area.

GPS technology can pinpoint an offender's location within 50 feet on a real-time display. It can also send alerts to parole or law enforcement authorities by e-mail, text message or faxes when offenders disable the transmitter or enter off-limit areas such as schools or day-care centers.
One company, Florida-based Pro Tech Monitoring, uses its CrimeTrax GPS technology to track around 5,000 people on court-ordered supervision such as parole, probation and house arrest in 38 states. Richard Nimer, Pro Tech's Vice President for Business Development, said inquiries about GPS tracking services increased almost nearly 400% after Jessica Lunsford's death.

The use of GPS tracking has had mixed results. On Nov. 17, 2005, California parolee Robert Dobucki was arrested after parole officials determined that he had visited an elementary school, a doll shop and a children's amusement park. Gov. Schwarzenegger is pushing legislation similar to Florida's that would increase penalties for child sex offences and require lifetime electronic monitoring.

However, a paroled child-sex offender in Idaho, William Lightner, removed a GPS bracelet and successfully absconded on July 23. And Kenneth Lamberton, a GPS-monitored defendant in Florida awaiting trial on a child-molestation charge, allegedly tried to force one underage girl into a sex act and another girl to expose herself. Thus, while GPS monitoring can track offenders and alert authorities in some cases, they do not necessarily prevent criminal activity or escapes from supervision.

According to statistics compiled by the FDOC from fiscal year 2001-2002, which included data on over 1,000 released offenders under GPS monitoring, 44% of offenders on traditional supervision were taken back into custody while only 31% of offenders on GPS monitoring had their supervision revoked. Also, approximately 6% of the GPS-monitored offenders committed new crimes compared with 11% of offenders who were not subject to GPS monitoring.

Florida has approximately 30,000 registered sex offenders. According to a Miami Herald investigation of state records from January 2005, Florida's law-enforcement agencies had lost track of more than 1,800 sex offenders, indicating a serious need for better monitoring.

However, GPS supervision has some critics, including civil-rights experts, the ACLU and defense attorneys, who argue that the stringent requirements of electronic monitoring, the inconvenience of having to wear the tracking devices and the stigma attached to sex offenders are too onerous for people who have served their time, been released and may never re-offend again. Kansas City attorney Arthur Benson is challenging Missouri's sexual offender registry, which requires released offenders to register for life, and has similar problems with lifetime GPS monitoring. While these laws are often couched in terms of protecting the public against repeat offenses, at heart they are vengeful, punishing acts," said Benson.
Three other states -- Missouri, Ohio and Oklahoma -- passed laws in 2005 requiring lifetime electronic monitoring for certain released sex offenders even if their original sentences or parole terms have expired. Similar bills have been proposed in Congress, as well as North Dakota and Alabama, while Pennsylvania, Oregon and New York are considering implementing statewide satellite tracking for sex offenders.

Sources: Palm Beach Post, Fox News, Miami Times, St. Petersburg Times.

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