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Does GPS supervision of intimate partner violence defendants reduce pretrial misconduct? Evidence from a quasi-experimental study



This research examines the effect global positioning system (GPS) technology supervision has on pretrial misconduct for defendants facing intimate partner violence charges.


Drawing on data from one pretrial services division, a retrospective quasi-experimental design was constructed to examine failure to appear to court, failure to appear to meetings with pretrial services, and rearrest outcomes between defendants ordered to pretrial GPS supervision and a comparison group of defendants ordered to pretrial supervision without the use of monitoring technology. Cox regression models were used to assess differences between quasi-experimental conditions. To enhance internal validity and mitigate model dependence, we utilized and compared results across four counterfactual comparison groups (propensity score matching, Mahalanobis distance matching, inverse probability of treatment weighting, and marginal mean weighting through stratification).


Pretrial GPS supervision was no more or less effective than traditional, non-technology based pretrial supervision in reducing the risk of failure to appear to court or the risk of rearrest. GPS supervision did reduce the risk of failing to appear to meetings with pretrial services staff.


The results suggest that GPS supervision may hold untapped case management benefits for pretrial probation officers, a pragmatic focus that may be overshadowed by efforts to mitigate the risk of pretrial misconduct. Further, the results contribute to ongoing discussions on bail reform, pretrial practice, and the movement to reduce local jail populations. Although the cost savings are not entirely clear, relatively higher risk defendants can be managed in the community and produce outcomes that are comparable to other defendants. The results also call into question the ability of matching procedures to construct appropriate counterfactuals in an era where risk assessment informs criminal justice decision-making. Weighting techniques outperformed matching strategies.

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Fig. 1


  1. In addition to the propensity score and Mahalanobis matching techniques, we considered the application of coarsened exact matching (CEM). This technique reduces observed covariates thought to influence selection decisions down to blocks of strata. In turn, these blocks of strata are used to identify comparison units and match these units to a treatment unit (Iacus et al. 2012). Unfortunately, due to the relatively extreme differences between the GPS and comparison groups in the present application, this matching strategy was unable to produce a sufficient number of exact matches. Known as the “tyranny of dimensionality” ( Nagin et al. 2009, p. 145), where exact matches on multiple dimensions are simply not feasible as the number of covariates to be matched increases, this is a major limitation of precision-based matching. Indeed, using the same matching specification as the propensity score and Mahalanobis matching techniques, along with reasonable cutpoints for quantitative variables, the CEM procedure was only able to identify two GPS and two comparison units (n = 4) as exact matches, resulting in a 99.9% sample loss. In light of this limitation, we did not employ a CEM comparison group in the estimation of treatment effects.

  2. The average length of pretrial supervision for the treatment group was 141.60 days (SD = 123.98), and it was 117.94 days (SD = 100.75) for the comparison group. The mean difference between the two groups was statistically dependable [F(1, 1482) = 16.18, p < 0.001]. A Kruskal–Wallis H test and Mann–Whitney test also indicated significant mean rank and median length of supervision differences between the groups [χ2(1) = 14.02, p < 0.001].

  3. Although the estimated treatment effect from the propensity matched, Mahalanobis distance, and IPTW comparison groups must be discounted due to their observed imbalances, supplemental models that entered imbalanced covariates in the Cox regression equation produced results similar to those presented in Table 3 (see Table A1 in the supplementary material). It is important to note that, once the imbalances are controlled for, the estimated treatment effect of pretrial GPS supervision on rearrest observed from the propensity matched group is no longer statistically dependable. This finding indicates that imbalances were responsible for the statistically significant estimated coefficient in Table 3 and further reinforces the importance of attending to selection bias issues through the careful construction of comparison groups.

  4. Since GPS supervision is the highest level of supervision available at the study site, all of the mismatches between a pretrial service supervision recommendation and a judicial order for the treatment group are based upon a recommendation for non-GPS supervision. Most (57%; 75/154) of these defendants were recommended to intensive supervision, which is the next most intense form of supervision available, follows the same terms as GPS supervision, but does not include GPS monitoring or other forms of technology. Among the unmatched pool of defendants in the comparison group, 117 defendants (45% of the comparison group subsample of mismatched recommendations and orders; 117/259) were recommended to GPS supervision. Eighty percent of those recommended to GPS supervision were instead ordered to intensive supervision.


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This research was supported by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice under grant number 2010-IJ-CX-K023. The opinions, conclusions, and recommendations reflect those of the authors and not any aforementioned agency. This research has been conducted in accordance with the National Institute of Justice’s requirements for research independence and integrity; the authors have no vested interests in commercial communication technology products, processes, or services.

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Correspondence to Eric Grommon.

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Grommon, E., Rydberg, J. & Carter, J.G. Does GPS supervision of intimate partner violence defendants reduce pretrial misconduct? Evidence from a quasi-experimental study. J Exp Criminol 13, 483–504 (2017).

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  • Domestic violence
  • GPS supervision
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Pretrial
  • Pretrial misconduct
  • Pretrial supervision