Offender Tracking and GIS Geographical Information System Research Paper

Pages: 11 (2919 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 11  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

¶ … offender tracking systems have been used for the past 60 years or so, including physical visitations by law enforcement authorities to offenders' residences to verify their presence as well as telephonic and television camera systems that can be used to verify offenders' presence in their homes without physical visitation being required. These traditional offender tracking methods, though, are labor intensive and require significant law enforcement resources to implement, maintain and administer. Recent innovations in technology have introduced a better approach that uses geographic information systems powered by global positioning systems together with computer-based applications that can automatically verify offenders' compliance with the terms of their release. This paper reviews the relevant literature to provide an overview of geographic information and global positioning systems, and how these technologies are being used to improve offender tracking in the United States. An analysis of current and future trends is followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

Offender Tracking and Geographical Information Systems



Review and Discussion

Overview of Geographical Information and Global Positioning Systems

Application of Geographical Information Systems for Offender Tracking

Current and Future Trends



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TOPIC: Research Paper on Offender Tracking and GIS Geographical Information System Assignment

The United States currently incarcerates more of its citizens than any developed country in the world. As many of the nation's prisons continue to operate beyond their maximum capacity and all signs indicate these trends will continue into the foreseeable future, criminologists are searching for alternatives that can be used in place of traditional imprisonment. One alternative that has been shown to be promising for this purpose is offender tracking in general and offender tracking using geographical information and global positioning systems in particular. To determine the respective strengths and weaknesses of using geographical information systems for offender tracking purposes, this paper reviews the relevant juried and scholarly literature, followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Overview of Geographical Information and Global Positioning Systems

As the term suggests, geographical information systems provide data concerning geographical locations and details that can be extremely difficult to produce otherwise. A useful definition of GIS offered by Lindsay is, "GIS is a means of capturing, storing, checking, integrating, mapping, analyzing, and displaying data spatially referenced to the earth's surface" (1999, p. 157). Although this definition provides a useful overview of the technology, it does not include the rationale for using the technology. Another definition provided by Lindsay addresses this deficiency: "GIS is also a toolkit for the manipulation and interrogation of geographical entities and their associated attributes" (1999, p. 157).

Many consumers are probably already aware of geographical information systems (GIS) because they are widely used in automobiles to help drivers find the optimum route to their destination, with some even "talking" to drivers. In this regard, McLaren reports that:

With GIS, a general map viewer enables users to request an address or intersection and to view a map and aerial photographs showing the location in question. Users can obtain measurements, zoom into and out from the map, add their own points, and then save, print, e-mail, or link to the map for their own use. Points of interest, as well as nearby sites and features, also can be displayed. (2004, p. 32)

The use of GIS, though, is not a new technology but rather dates, in one type or another, to the mid-20th century; however, beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s, geographical information systems were being deployed on a large scale in the United States (Lindsay, 1999). Since that time, GIS have been applied to increasingly diverse disciplines and has even become a discipline in its own right (Lindsay, 1999). The deployment of GIS has been most prominent in the United States where state and federal agencies have used the technology to help record and define the boundaries of public lands (Lindsay, 1999). In response to the rapid growth of geographical information systems, software engineers have produced numerous computer-based applications that take advantage of this powerful technology (Lindsay, 1999) and there are a growing number of databases that can be cross-referenced using GIS-generated information, including mapping high-crime areas (Schwabe, Davis & Jackson, 2001).

Geographic information systems rely on global positioning systems (GPS) which are comprised of three basic elements:

1. The component in space, which consists of 24 operational satellites;

2. Earth-based control sites that monitor the satellites; and,

3. The user-receiver component, which interprets the radio signals from the satellites (Ponchillia, McKenzie, Long, Denton-Smith, Hicks & Miley, 2007).

The user-receiver component, typically called the "GPS unit" contains geographic information systems spatial data, including the locations of highways, roads, railroads, and other features that are normally depicted on print maps (Ponchillia et al., 2007).

Application of Geographical Information Systems for Offender Tracking

A number of offender tracking methods have been developed in recent decades in an effort to provide alternatives to more inexpensive incarceration, particularly for nonviolent offenders, but many of these systems have been less than efficient and have required time-consuming administration to be effective. Generally speaking, offender tracking systems are a type of behavior monitoring that "allows offenders some freedom of movement while still keeping their activities under surveillance, thereby permitting the authorities to detect possible future misdeeds. One form of monitoring is offender tracking" (Thomas, 1999, p. 158). These systems can be used with offenders who have been released into the community but who are not assigned to so-called "halfway houses"; offender tracking systems can then be used to ensure that these released offenders are in compliance with the terms of their parole or probation (Thomas, 1999). According to Thomas, "The traditional form of tracking consisted of law breakers being required to report daily to an officer of the court, or else a supervisor would visit the offender's residence at unannounced times to check on the individual's actions. This approach is still widely used" (1999, p. 158).

Clearly, this approach is labor-intensive and requires extensive field work by law enforcement authorities. Another approach that is being used in some cities in the United States is more efficient, but is still relatively labor intensive. For instance, Thomas reports that, "Police departments employ a telephone/television system to keep track of people who have been sentenced to remain in their homes at all times. The way the system operates can be illustrated with the example of people convicted of drunk driving who have agreed to remain at home in lieu of a jail sentence" (1999, p. 159). In this offender tracking approach, small television cameras are mounted in the offender's home and attached to a telephone. Law enforcement authorities then telephone the offender's home on a daily basis at random times and offenders are required to stand in front of the television camera to verify his or her presence while talking with the authorities on the telephone. This alternative is more cost effective than incarceration by reducing the number of officers required to administer it (Thomas, 1999).

Despite these advantages, though, all of the foregoing approaches require significant resources to implement and administer. Furthermore, Schwabe, Davis and Jackson (2001) emphasize that many of the systems are between 2 and 3 decades old and, like the majority of legacy systems, have become problematic to employ and properly maintain. There are also some compelling reasons to replace these obsolete tracking systems with more effective ones. As Schwabe and his colleagues point out, "Victims of crime perpetrated by offenders turned loose in communities without being adequately tracked are beginning to bring lawsuits against state agencies for not having or effectively providing information that could have potentially prevented crime" (2001, p. 23).

While the "lock-'em-up-and-throw-away-the-key" school of thought has contributed to dangerously overcrowded prisons across the country, calls for implementing alternatives to incarceration are increasing and there is a clear need to reliable and effective tracking methods that can ensure that parolees and probationers are complying with the terms of their release. In this regard, Schwabe and his associates cite the chief of corrections in a western state who asked lawmakers, "Are you more worried about the 15,000 people I've got behind bars or the 55,000 people I have out in your communities?" (quoted in Schwabe et al., 2001, p. 23).

Innovations in technology, though, can replace these time-consuming and burdensome approaches to offender tracking. In this regard, Thomas reports that, "In more advanced industrial societies, recent years have witnessed the application of sophisticated electronic devices to improve the quality and convenience of offender tracking" (1999, p. 159). An example of these more efficient approaches is the use of GPS-enabled devices that are worn by offenders, typically around their ankle, that allows law enforcement authorities to maintain real-time awareness of their geographical location. According to Thomas, "Law breakers released on bail may be required to wear a bracelet that emits electronic signals which enable authorities to trace their movements" (1999, p. 159).

Such GPS-enabled systems, though, are not cheap and require an integrated system to… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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