By Annie Rudolph and Kaveh Nasseri
WASHINGTON, DC – In a new report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has examined the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts’ use of location monitoring for those convicted, and made four recommendations for change.
From 2018-2022, about 25 percent of people awaiting their federal trials were required to wear a location monitoring device as a condition of release, according to the report.
And, GAO conducted data analysis on location monitoring use and found that 85 percent of users were male and 92 percent of users had no new criminal charges while being monitored by the device.
GAO said it examined the challenges that location monitoring policies pose for individuals under supervision as well as the officers who must constantly monitor their whereabouts.
The main obstacle that individuals under supervision face is finding employment, said GAO, because some companies may be reluctant to hire them because of monitoring-related scheduling requirements or the visibility of their device.
Officers must respond to “key alerts,” which may indicate a violation of the user’s location restrictions but often are the result of poor cellular service, weak GPS signal, equipment defect, or malfunctions from weather conditions, said GAO.
The Administrative Office does not have a robust program to analyze data on the causes of alerts or the response time from officers, the GAO found, and its data analysis provides the Administrative Office with information they could use to make more effective staffing decisions.
According to GAO, their report “describes (1) how the Administrative Office manages its location monitoring program and assesses its districts’ adherence to policies, (2) characteristics of individuals with court-ordered location monitoring and obstacles they face, and (3) challenges pretrial services officers encounter with alert response and the extent to which the Administrative Office has initiatives to address challenges.”
The GAO report was conducted by surveying 79 chiefs from 93 district offices, as well as officials and personnel from six districts. In response to their findings, GAO said it has made four recommendations, all concerned with developing a new method to collect data on location monitoring alerts.
The first recommendation is that the Probation and Pretrial Services Office, which is part of the Administrative Office, use its new data system to make a “sortable field” and track “the underlying cause of key alerts across districts.”
Second, GAO recommends the Administrative Office have the Probation and Pretrial Services Office analyze its data for commonalities in the causes of key events, thereby allowing them to more effectively address these events and inform the office.
The third recommendation, according to GAO, is that the new data system track “the length of time that it takes location monitoring officers to respond to and investigate key alerts and analyze these data.”
Finally, the fourth suggestion is that the Probation and Pretrial Services Office use what it has learned about how long it takes location monitoring officers to respond to key alerts.
GAO suggests the office incorporate information about response time into its workload analysis, and use such information for future decisions about location monitoring staff.
According to GAO, “The Administrative Office said it will consider these recommendations as it replaces its current data system.” GAO has said that it will provide updated information after confirming how the agency has responded to the suggestions.