Our nation's continued budget woes are taking a toll at all levels of government, including local cities and counties that are struggling with higher costs, lower tax revenue collections and sometimes dwindling state and federal aid. The result is a need to look for lower-cost and less-labor-intensive ways to address a range of government security and law enforcement needs. When governments downsize, technology is a tool to help fill the gap.

Technology often enables greater efficiencies with less manpower. An example is the use of electronic systems to help a county government's criminal justice system to manage its large population of lower-risk offenders. Counties face two major hurdles related to managing these offenders. One is the high cost of housing offenders in jails. The other is the challenge of managing the large caseloads thrust upon overworked parole officers and those providing pre-trial services.

One such electronic system uses radio frequency (RF) monitoring and comprises a transmitter bracelet worn on the offender's wrist, coupled with a nearby monitoring unit that provides a two-way RF link with the bracelet. The system doesn't “track” an individual but rather monitors the compliance of an individual required to remain at a specific location for a specific time period. The technology can continuously receive, store and disseminate compliance data to a monitoring center without active involvement by the participant.

Another electronic monitoring system is an ankle-mounted GPS location device that is waterproof and shock-resistant. The device can monitor participants by calculating a precise location using both GPS (global position system) satellites and cellular phone towers. “Dual monitoring” ensures reliability, and the device incorporates a cellular modem that communicates information using an encrypted signal to a monitoring center over a wireless network. Provided information includes tamper alerts, curfew schedules and inclusion/exclusion zone violations.

To keep track of alcohol-related offenders, another device worn as a bracelet can monitor and identify alcohol consumption by measuring ethanol gas emitted through the skin on a continuous basis. A test chamber collects ethanol molecules released from the skin, and measurements are taken every 15 minutes to compare with a sober baseline established when an offender is enrolled in the program. When combined with GPS location tracking into a single solution, the continuous alcohol monitoring system can track indicators of alcohol use while identifying an offender's exact location. Information is delivered in real-time to a monitoring system via a GPS cell phone.

Electronic monitoring systems can allow judges to confidently release lower-risk offenders into society, where they can contribute to their communities (by working and paying taxes) and support their families. Everyone benefits from these systems. The local government enjoys lower costs, which ultimately benefits the taxpayer; officers spend less time on caseload management.

Electronic monitoring costs significantly less than jail, and saving money allows local governments to focus more resources on other aspects of security and public safety.