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E-Carceration: Technology Plays Bigger Role in Justice System

The use of tools like facial recognition disproportionately target people of color, according to advocates for criminal justice reform. (denisismagilov/Adobe Stock)
The use of tools like facial recognition disproportionately target people of color, according to advocates for criminal justice reform. (denisismagilov/Adobe Stock)
August 7, 2020

LOS ANGELES - Technology is increasingly becoming a tool in the justice system, raising concerns that incarceration could expand beyond the walls of jails and prisons.

Hamid Khan - coordinator with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition - said the use of "house arrest," where people are outfitted with ankle shackles for electronic monitoring, has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, since it's perceived as a safer option than being in jail or prison.

But he said it also increases the state's ability to surveil people.

"This becomes another tool in the massive information gathering and storing about people's movements, where people have been," said Khan. "And as technology is advancing, a lot of different pieces we can expect to be incorporated around people's location."

The groups Freedom to Thrive and the Center for Urban Pedagogy have pointed out other hazards of electronic monitoring. People pay for the monitors, sometimes as much as $400 per month - and if they can't pay, they can be sent back to prison or jail.

A Pew study found about 125,000 people were supervised with electronic devices in 2015, up 140% from a decade earlier.

Khan said there are other technology worries, like facial recognition and predictive policing algorithms used to assess a person's threat of reoffending. He said people of color are disproportionately targeted by these policing methods.

Khan added that the surveillance system for domestic police has been expanding, even since the days of Vietnam War protests - but it has become much more powerful with technology.

"With the advent in technology and information sharing," said Khan, "all the tracing and tracking methods, and intelligence gathering and storing and sharing, has taken on a completely different realm."

Khan said there's also growing concern about the development of "smart" cities, which could merge surveillance and justice systems.

"Technology is surrounding us, pretty much, as these things are expanding," said Khan. "We're looking at almost like a virtual carceral state that is being formed out there."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - CA