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By Britaney Byers

A person who is convicted of a crime is placed on probation when a judge determines incarceration is not an appropriate sanction. When a person is on probation, they are released back into the community and monitored. The goals of probation usually include rehabilitating offenders and minimizing the risk that the offender will commit a new offense. How does this work if probation officers do not have face-to-face access to the offender at all times? It turns out, there are many methods of monitoring probationers while they are residing in the community to try to reduce opportunities for criminal behavior.

Most people, when they think of probation monitoring, think of someone having an ankle bracelet while they are on house arrest. This is one of the most common technologies used for monitoring the location of probationers. But what does the ankle bracelet do and how does it work? Ankle bracelets are position monitoring systems, put in use when a probation officer needs to know where an offender is at any given time. Through radio frequency monitoring, a device in the home connects to the technology in the bracelet. This device will tell an officer when a person leaves a designated area and when they return. When an offender is on a curfew or has other travel restrictions, this is a very helpful tool. Bracelets can also make use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS). Instead of simply tracking when an offender leaves and returns to a specific location, they track everywhere the offender goes when the bracelet is in use. In addition to these technologies, probation officers are also allowed to use the old-fashioned system of conducting field visits and contacting relatives or associates to ensure the probationer is cooperating with their given terms of probation.

For crimes involving alcohol and/or drug use, a probation officer might need to ensure that the offender they are supervising is remaining sober throughout the length of their probation. There are several ways to monitor their activity. Sometimes, as a condition of their probation, offenders are required to attend some form of treatment to assist them in managing any chemical dependency problems. Through treatment, the probation officer will stay in touch with the counselors that have been working with the probationer. The counselor will provide information about the probationer’s behavior, their response to treatment, and the results of any drug tests. Probation officers also drug test the offenders themselves whenever necessary.

In the case of drinking and driving offenses, there is technology that allows officers to ensure that offenders are driving sober by using an ignition interlock device.  An ignition interlock device connects to the probationer’s car and requires that a person take and pass a breathalyzer test in order to start their car. For other offenders who have had legal problems with alcohol, a transdermal alcohol sensor may be worn. This sensor detects when an offender has consumed alcohol through their sweat. This technology allows individuals to provide alcohol test results at any time.

Offenses that are related to computers and the internet, such as credit card fraud, hacking, child pornography, cyber-stalking or other like crimes require additional conditions to reduce the potential of re-offending. Officers can mandate different conditions for a probationer involving using their computer or having access to the internet. After becoming familiar with what equipment, usernames, passwords, and social media sites the offender uses and has access to in their home, employment, or any other places, they can set certain restrictions for the probationer. This can include restricting access to certain websites, restricting access to the internet, placing computer monitoring systems on any computer the offender will use, allowing for the search of any technology used without a warrant, and restricting access to certain websites.

Although there are a couple of common monitoring methods listed here, this is not an exhaustive list. Also, because every probationer’s situation is different, every combination of methods and how the methods are used for each person will be different. No matter how monitoring occurs, the goal is the same: to help rehabilitate an offender and to help reduce opportunities for criminal behavior as much as possible.

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About the author: Brittaney Byers is a current court reporting student intern at Cady Reporting. She is currently in her final speeds at Cuyahoga Community College and hoping to graduate in May 2018. Brittaney has been featured in the National Court Reporters Association’s student publication Up-To-Speed as the Student Spotlight in October 2017. After graduating, Brittaney hopes to either become a freelance court reporter taking depositions, or an official court reporter working in a courtroom. When she is not practicing or doing homework, she enjoys playing the piano and caring for her cat, Kiara.