Defendants Finding Few Consequences for Slipping Ankle Monitors

In Georgia, electronic ankle monitoring devices are used by law enforcement to track 48 of the state’s 17,000 registered convicted sexual offenders. Judges deemed these offenders “dangerous sexual predators” and unsafe enough that they require constant monitoring. So what if I told you that the state’s ankle monitoring program relies on the good faith efforts of the monitored in order to be successful?

Physically, ankle monitors look like a plastic box about the size of a deck of cards. They are attached around the detainee’s ankle with a one-inch plastic strap that can easily be cut for emergencies. A fiber optic cable embedded within that strap gives off a signal when it has been cut, but, incredibly, cannot give off a signal if it is out of cell phone range or… has not been charged by the person being monitored.

That’s right, according to Robbie Brewer of Atlanta Ankle Monitoring, “You are still relying on [the defendant’s] faithfulness to charge it, to do what they are supposed to do and not to cut [the monitoring device].”

This goes far to explain a spate of recent news stories involving criminals under house arrest who have ditched their monitors and gone on the lam. Former DeKalb County Sheriff’s Deputy Derrick Yancey was placed on house arrest after being accused of shooting his wife of 17 years and an immigrant day laborer. Yancey cut off his ankle monitor and fled. He was last seen in Phoenix, Arizona, and is now possibly in Mexico. How did Yancey make it so far after blatantly cutting his ankle monitoring bracelet? Because the house arrest monitoring company did not notify law enforcement about the escape for 11 hours.

More recently, 17-year-old Antoine Wimes , who is accused of shooting a woman in the face and beating her son, cut his ankle bracelet and disappeared. In this case, Fulton County authorities were not notified by the monitoring company at all. Instead, they did not find out about the escape until Wimes family notified them.

Further, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard has recently been questioning why so many indicted murder defendants are out on bond. He revealed that 43 murder defendants are currently under house arrest in the county. That makes 43 people who could possibly follow in Derrick Yancey’s footsteps and flee captivity. And those are only the murder cases.

Shockingly, even with the recent rash of ankle monitor escapes, a new Georgia law may make ankle monitors even more ubiquitous. The law, sponsored by Len Walker (R-Loganville), took effect on July 1st and was designed to help alleviate Georgia jail overcrowding. The law requires that the monitoring companies – the same ones that waited 11 hours to notify authorizes of Derrick Yancey’s escape and never notified authorizes of Antoine Wimes’ escape at all – to act as surety for their charges. Under the law, these agencies would be responsible for sending agents to apprehend any escapees, fulfilling a role traditionally performed by bond enforcement agents.

What do you think? Is jail overcrowding a serious enough issue that dangerous defendants should be allowed to serve their time before trial at home? Or is the risk simply too great?