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Ohio parole reform panel questions GPS-monitoring study

The state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction will work with researchers to determine whether expanding GPS monitoring is effective

Jim Provance
The Blade

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A governor’s panel formed to review how the state monitors parolees is pushing back against a University of Cincinnati study that questions the effectiveness of using GPS and other electronic monitoring devices.

The work by researchers suggested that widespread use of GPS and other electronic monitoring of former Ohio inmates may not prevent crime, could give the public a false sense of security, would be expensive, and may not be technologically feasible at this time. The study was mandated by lawmakers in a law named after Reagan Tokes.

The Ohio State University senior and former Monclova Township resident was kidnapped, robbed, raped, and murdered in 2017 by a recently released sex offender who was equipped with a GPS ankle bracelet at the time.

The unit recorded his whereabouts, but was not monitored in real time. In the days immediately preceding Ms. Tokes’ murder, Brian Lee Golsby went undetected as he committed a series of Columbus robberies and assaults.

Members of the reform panel created by Gov. Mike DeWine questioned how helpful inclusion of data in the study from many low-risk and moderate-risk offenders would be to the panel as it prepares to submit preliminary recommendations to the governor by month’s end.

Of the offender sample reviewed, 40 percent of were considered low risk, 37.7 percent moderate risk, and 22.1 percent high risk. The sample included various forms of electronic monitoring, including former inmates who were required to just electronically check in with parole officers on a regular basis.

“For the most part the public is looking for people like sex offenders on electronic monitoring, and so given the information that I received from 2018, the vast majority of people who are on electronic monitoring right now are not sex offenders, were not convicted of a sex offense,:” researcher Ian Silver told the panel.

Based on what other states do, he suggested an expansion of real-time GPS monitoring would be better targeted toward specific populations rather than imposed widely.

The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction plans to work with the researchers in hopes of narrowing the focus more tightly on higher-risk populations to determine whether a broad expansion of real-time GPS monitoring could be effective.

Bills have been reintroduced in the General Assembly that would essentially serve as the Reagan Tokes Act 2, requiring broader real-time monitoring of inmates after they’ve completed their sentences and have re-entered society.

“There’s different levels of effectiveness,” said Champaign County Prosecutor Kevin Talebi, a member of the reform panel. “...Recidivism is certainly something we should consider. Effectiveness as a tool for solving criminal activity after the fact is another type of effectiveness...The offender is less likely to go out and engage in risk-related behavior because they’re being monitored...

“It also gives a probation officer an opportunity sometimes when they see suspicious behavior to investigate more about what was going on...,” he said.

The study, however, raised doubts as to whether widespread GPS monitoring could prevent crime in real time. The Tokes family has maintained that Reagan may be alive today if an alarm bells had gone off sooner on the robberies and assaults Golsby had committed while wearing a GPS monitor.

Part of the proposed second Tokes law would require development of a system that could correlate a former inmates’ GPS data points with locations of crimes to see whether they intersect.

“Theoretically you can,” said Edward Latessa, director of UC’s School of Criminal Justice and a reform panel member. “The problem is the data, especially in Ohio. You have to have law enforcement put the data into their system. We have to have access to it.”

The panel will accept its first public testimony on Jan. 16 at a time and place not yet set. DRC Director Annette Chambers-Smith said she expects family members of crime victims will likely appear before the panel.

Despite its broad focus, she said she believes the UC study will help the panel.

“I think we have interest in being as specific as possible, but there’s still information in here that will inform our work and we could make recommendations off of,” Ms. Chambers-Smith said.