Electronic Monitoring After Illinois Prisons: Benefits Unclear | WBEZ
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Research: Benefits Of Costly Electronic Monitoring Unclear

The Illinois Department of Corrections is using electronic monitors to track about 2,800 people, but there’s little evidence to show that the monitoring of inmates leaving Illinois prisons increases public safety, according to a new report from a nonpartisan government research agency.

“EM generally has a minimal effect on reducing recidivism and changing criminal behavior,” reads the research brief by the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council, and it may also have a negative effect for a person who has a “low risk of reoffending,” because it can have the unintended consequence of increasing the likelihood that they are reincarcerated.

Illinois law requires that people convicted of certain offenses be placed on electronic monitoring when they leave prison, but IDOC and the Prisoner Review Board also exercise broad discretion placing additional people on the monitors. Neither agency has criteria or standards that govern those decisions, according to the report. The agencies provided a justification for monitoring in just 40% of the cases SPAC examined.

“The question of whether EM is effective as a condition of supervision can only be answered by evaluating the program to determine the outcomes it produces,” reads the report. “The information gained through that process could also guide improvements for the use of EM to ensure that the benefits of the program are greater than its costs.”

A spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections says the department is forecasting it will spend about $3 million on electronic monitoring in the next fiscal year.

A bill is currently in the state legislature that would require the state to collect more robust data on how it is using electronic monitoring. The Prisoner Review Board has expressed support for collecting more information to ensure monitoring is effective and supported by evidence.

Shannon Heffernan is a criminal justice reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at @shannon_h.

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