Study: Widespread GPS of former inmates may give false sense of security

The University of Cincinnati study states that GPS data may not be any more effective in preventing crime than simple electronic monitoring


By Jim Provance
The Blade

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A legislatively mandated study suggests that the costly widespread use of GPS and other electronic monitoring of former Ohio inmates may not reduce crime, and could give the public a false sense of security.

Ordered by state lawmakers after the murder of former Monclova Township resident Reagan Tokes, the study was conducted by the University of Cincinnati. It states that correlating GPS data with information about known crime scenes may help to solve those crimes after the fact but may not be any more effective in preventing crime than simple electronic monitoring.

In this photo taken Monday, Aug. 3, 2009, Parole Agent Steve Nakamura talks with a parolee wearing a GPS locator worn on his ankle, in Sacramento, Calif.
In this photo taken Monday, Aug. 3, 2009, Parole Agent Steve Nakamura talks with a parolee wearing a GPS locator worn on his ankle, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

“The daily operations required for such a system are exceedingly complex and would require careful planning and consistent oversight,” the study states. “Additionally, the costs associated with developing and operating such an initiative would be substantial and recurring.

“While some costs may be offset by strategically reallocating funds, it is unlikely that these would be sufficient to support the ongoing costs of maintaining the new initiative,” it states.

The study, publicly released Friday, also says the lack of a unified data system makes it “highly unlikely” that GPS-crime scene correlation technology is currently attainable. GPS devices rely on signal strength that can vary in some locations, and malfunctions can result in false alerts, it said.

More research into the effects of GPS on recidivism rates is needed, the study said. If the state should pursue a GPS-crime scene correlation system, it should be tested first—perhaps on a specific target population of sex offenders or high-risk individuals in a single county.

Ms. Tokes was murdered on Feb. 8, 2017, by Brian Lee Golsby, a sex offender who’d recently completed his sentence for attempted rape and was under post-release supervision by the Ohio Parole Authority. At the time of Ms. Tokes’ murder, Golsby was equipped with a GPS ankle device that recorded his whereabouts but was not monitored in real time.

The case was one of 15 high-risk cases briefly reviewed Friday by a panel named by Gov. Mike DeWine to look at Ohio's post-release control policies in the wake of high-profile cases in which released inmates offended while still under supervision.

Recurring themes among the reviewed cases were complications from mental health and substance abuse issues, and housing problems created when families and halfway houses refuse to accept high-risk inmates, particularly sex offenders.

Also on the table for examination is Ohio's truth-in-sentencing law, which generally requires an inmate to complete a finite sentence rather than a sentencing range with a minimum and maximum.

“[This structure] results in an offender being released from prison upon expiration of a determinant sentence regardless of whether they are prepared to reenter society,” Ashley Parriman, staff counsel at the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, told the panel Friday.

“This is in huge contrast to the parole system where individuals are released when they are determined to be prepared to successfully reenter society,” she said.

This sentencing structure affects the incentives available both while the inmate is incarcerated and after. She said inmates may not complete programming while in prison to help them succeed after they leave and that potential additional prison time is limited when the released offender violates restrictions placed upon them.

Matters are further complicated by parole officer caseload sizes.

“In almost every case, we were able to confirm that the parole officers' responses were appropriate and followed policy,” Ms. Parriman said.

After the meeting, the department's current director and panel co-chair, Annette Chambers-Smith, said there could be shortcomings in policy that could be addressed.

“Just because the parole officers behaved and supervised appropriately doesn't mean that we have covered all the things we need to cover in terms of mental health, substance use disorder, and placement,” she said.

Her co-chairman, Reginald Wilkinson, a former DRC director, said the system cannot always account for the human factor, pointing to one of the reviewed cases in which the released offender was deemed to be low-risk but still later committed a murder.

“As much as we want to get better at being able to pick up on the triggers that might make somebody do something dastardly, we can never get rid of that potential of violence in some of these cases,” he said.

The first part of what's called the Reagan Tokes Law has been passed, restoring the concept of sentencing ranges to hold the threat of additional prison time over inmates' heads to get them to behave and improve themselves while behind bars.

But the second part has not moved, in part because of the large price tag attached. It would require development of real-time GPS monitoring and a correlation of that data with known crime scene information. It also would require the state to determine an appropriate caseload for parole officers and then hire enough of them to enact lower caseloads.

Despite wearing a GPS monitor, Golsby carried out a series of robberies in Columbus in the days leading up the night he kidnapped, robbed, raped, and murdered Ms. Tokes, an Ohio State University senior. Her family has argued that, if his GPS ankle device had been monitored in real time, authorities may have rearrested Golsby for the robberies before his crime spree escalated to murder.

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©2019 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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