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Progress or More of the Same? Electronic Monitoring and Parole in the Age of Mass Incarceration


Often billed as an “alternative to incarceration”, electronic monitoring (EM) is widely trumpeted as a key method of reducing incarceration costs while maintaining public safety. However, little research has been done which closely examines EM in the historical context of mass incarceration and the paradigm of punishment. This article focuses on the use of EM in parole in that broader context. Through research into the legal and policy frameworks for EM as well as via personal interviews with people who have been on EM while on parole, the author concludes that the present EM practice reinforces the dominant punishment paradigm and places major obstacles in the way of the successful re-entry for people returning from prison. He concludes with some concrete recommendations about changes in law, policy and implementation guidelines that would allow EM to operate in an environment more conducive to rehabilitation.

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  1. Cited on web page accessed 6-17-11.

  2. There are a few exceptions. The work of Lilly (2006), Gable (n.d.), Payne et al. (2009), Shklovski et al. (2009), and Staples and Decker (2011) have pointed out some of the problematic aspects of electronic monitoring and house arrest. However, none fully situates the technology in the context of mass incarceration.

  3. Important organizations in this movement include all of us or none, citizens united for rehabilitation (CURE), critical resistance, families against mandatory minimums, the Fortune Society, Justice Policy Institute, prison policy initiative, the real costs of prisons projects, and the sentencing project.

  4. While a detailed analysis of the contemporary state is beyond the scope of this paper, it is worth noting that these three features of mass incarceration have not evolved in isolation. They reflect a broad process of the restructuring of the state along neoliberal lines during the same period. For our purposes, the key components of this restructuring involve de-emphasizing the welfare and taxing function of the state while prioritizing security and facilitating corporate profit opportunities. For more discussion of the changing role of the state and its link to mass incarceration see (Wacquant 2009a, b; Gilmore 2007; Gottschalk 2007; Parenti 1999).

  5. Information on electronic monitoring regimes is drawn from Staples and Decker (2011), Bales et al. (2010), Shklovksi et al. (2009) along with my own personal experience and interviews with other people who have been on EM.

  6. For this information about people on parole I have also drawn on my own experiences while in prison and on parole and interviews with other people who have been on EM and parole.

  7. Amounts vary from state to state. California is relatively generous, providing $200 cash. Idaho, on the other hand provides only a suit of clothes, a bus ticket and a brown bag lunch. For state by state listings of this “gate money” visit the American Radioworks website: Hard Time: Life After Prison at: accessed September 7, 2012.

  8. Information on the operations of EM programs comes from personal experiences, interviews with people who have been on EM and from Staples and Decker (2011), Bales et al. (2010), Shklovski et al. (2009).

  9. The states I investigated were: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin.

  10. Details of the Choice v. State case from, accessed July 21, 2011.


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Correspondence to James Kilgore.

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Kilgore, J. Progress or More of the Same? Electronic Monitoring and Parole in the Age of Mass Incarceration. Crit Crim 21, 123–139 (2013).

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  • Criminal Justice
  • Electronic Monitoring
  • Parole Officer
  • Mass Incarceration
  • Community Supervision