Convicted Sex Offenders Disable GPS Tracking Devices

The state of California is experiencing an inordinate number of paroled sex offenders disabling their court-ordered GPS tracking devices. More than 3,400 arrest warrants for GPS tamperers have been issued since October 2011. In 2012 the number of violators who tampered with their monitors increased by 28 percent.

High-risk sex offenders are tracked for life with GPS monitors based on a 2006 California vote. These criminals are convicted of child molestation, sexual battery, and rape, and have a high rate of recidivism. However due to a 2011 Supreme Court ruling asserting overcrowding as unconstitutional, prisons and local jails are forced to comply and find alternatives for the oversized population of lawbreakers. Therefore some offenders are released and put into monitoring programs in compliance to realignment.

Participants are required to wear an ankle monitoring bracelet and to stay within approved zones at all times. At certain intervals the bracelet sends a radio frequency signal, relaying information to a receiver. If a parolee moves outside of an allowed range or cuts the conductive band connecting the unit to the wearer authorities are notified. Anklets are designed to be tamper-resistant and are supposed to alert officials of removal attempts.

Before prison realignment an offender was subject to finishing out the remainder of their initial crime behind bars along with additional penalties for breaching the terms of their release. Now the maximum but rarely applied penalty is 180 days in jail.

Thousands of paroled sexual offenders in California have since realized removing or disarming their ankle monitors results in virtually little to no consequences, according to the Los Angeles Times. The violation simply results in temporary detainment and there is little risk of serving prolonged time or being returned to prison. Instead violators are freed from custody within a matter of days if not hours because of overcrowding.

In many cases new crimes are committed during the hours or days the criminals are off the grid. Rithy Mam, a convicted child stalker bound to GPS tracking after several arrests, disappeared after disabling his anklet. Police revealed 33-year-old Mam spend his absence tormenting 15 and 13-year-old sisters in Stockton, California, and is now in custody on felony child molestation charges.

Raoul Leyva, another device violator with a history of violence against women, was located nearly two weeks after his bracelet died. Police were led to an apartment, also in Stockton, where Leyva was hiding out. Brandy Arreola, Leyva’s 20-year-old girlfriend, was found severely beaten and left comatose. The brain damage suffered from the assault has since confined Arreola to a wheelchair.

Fidel Tafoya, an early release criminal with a history of sexually assaulting female college students, removed his tracker. The 48-year-old was detained days later on suspicion of grabbing a female student in the library of Cal State Fresno.

Lawmakers, the justice department, and the Bureau of Prisons acknowledge there’s a problem but are bewildered as to the best way to solve it.

What punishment would be more effective in deterring criminals from violating their patrol and monitoring, or violating laws in general? How should jails and prisons deal with overcrowding?

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