On October 12, a group of 30+ activists and researchers came together at the MediaJustice office in Oakland for “Challenging E-Carceration in California and Beyond”, a major convening on the impacts of electronic monitoring. The catalyst for coming together was the growing use of electronic monitoring in many areas of the criminal legal and immigration systems. Members of the No New SF Jail Coalition noted that the use of monitors had increased more than threefold in their county over the last two years, while the jail population had only fallen marginally. Anthony Robles from JusticeLA Coalition noted that several years of grassroots organizing stopped the county’s efforts to build a $1.7 billion jail. However, he added that this great victory could be undermined by a new state law, SB10, which gives increased discretionary power to judges via risk assessment tools. This could set up the possibility that fewer people might be released from jail pretrial and that those who are set free will be placed on electronic monitors.
A number of attendees shared personal testimonies on how these monitors infringed on their freedom, arguing that they constituted a form of incarceration that particularly targeted Black and brown people. Ali Sentwali of All of Us or None described how even when he was living in his car authorities required him to wear a device. Because the monitor had to be charged for two hours every day, he was forced to look for public places where he could plug it in. In addition, despite his struggles to survive, the EM providers insisted on charging him $35 a day. Tim Williams spent nine months on a monitor as part of pretrial release in Chicago. The stringent rules of house arrest cost him his job and ultimately he and his partner lost the condo they were buying because they could not afford the house note. David Gaspar of The Bail Project shared the story of his son who ended up on a monitor for the minor violation of urinating in a bush during a bike ride. The monitor blocked the young man from finding a job and stigmatized him in his community. Gaspar and Kate Weisburd, a law professor at George Washington Law School, made a powerful case for how the rules for electronic monitoring with house arrest violated the 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th amendments. The violations of the 4th amendment, which bans illegal search and seizures, was a repeated theme mentioned throughout the convening. For most people, terms of house arrest impose harsh restrictions on everyone living in a house with a person on a monitor. Typically, this means no alcohol or firearms on the premises and that the house is subject to search without warning any time of the night or day.
Another key theme of the day was the increasing use of electronic monitoring as a surveillance tool. Jacinta Gonzalez of Mijente reminded the audience that ICE used the GPS tracking capacity of monitors in the recent workplace raids in Mississippi, where nearly 800 people were taken into custody. The tracking data allowed authorities to locate individuals who did not have work permits at their place of employment. Gonzalez stressed that the GPS tracking information combined with other databases is used to profile immigrants. The data mining done by companies like Palantir and electronic monitoring firm, BI, are major sources of revenue for a growing surveillance state.
Hamid Khan of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition urged the gathering to place electronic monitoring squarely within the technology of the “stalker state.” He labeled this the “street to prison pipeline”. Khan spoke of how the campaign in Los Angeles had stopped the use of certain predictive policing technology. Along with Gonzalez and other activists, he helped the group explore ways to attack the corporate power of the purveyors of surveillance technology.
While critiques of electronic monitoring and e-carceration constituted a main theme of the day, the real focus was framing and planning resistance. Lily Haskell of Critical Resistance argued that we should stop referring to services like housing and substance abuse treatment as “alternatives to incarceration.” Rather, she stressed, these are basic rights of people that exist apart from prisons and jails. Researchers like Professor Chaz Arnett of the University of Pittsburgh and Robert Smith of Marquette University helped the group consider paradigms for new research to bolster campaign work on electronic monitoring. The gathering noted that the failure of local and state authorities to compile data on their monitoring programs was a key obstacle to exposing the impact of this technology. David Maldonado of Underground Scholars uplifted that in addition to gathering data on EM, there was a need to think about its presence as part of the logic of settler colonialism and racial capitalism.
“Challenging E-Carceration in California and Beyond” was an important step in recognizing the potential of organizing on this issue by bringing together experts and advocates across sectors to fight the encroachment of this carceral technology. While electronic monitoring is not the main focus of most organizations operating in the criminal legal and immigration spaces, the need to pay more attention to its expansion and potential to reshape the lives of communities of color became obvious over the course of the day. As the Challenging E-Carceration campaign at MediaJustice, we intend to build on the connections formed in this gathering to deepen our understanding of where these surveillance devices are headed and how we can mobilize to forge policy changes, legislative advances and community mobilization to reverse the advance of this punitive technology.
Organizations represented at this convening included All of Us or None, MiJente, Community Justice Exchange, the Chicago Community Bond Fund, Critical Resistance, LA Youth Jail Coalition, Stop LAPD Spying, 67 Sueños, CURYJ and The Bail Project.