A blog series on the excessive, punitive, and discriminatory use of electronic monitoring in the criminal legal system

What Safety Really Looks Like

by Myaisha Hayes

I recently attended a workshop at the Personal Democracy Forum at New York Law School, an annual conference focused on how the internet and technology are shaping politics, governance, and advocacy. During this particular workshop, as I sat listening to the panelists discuss how data and technology can be helpful tools in policing reform, I was reminded of the contradictions at the heart of how many today are approaching the protection of communities of color that have long suffered the violence of police brutality. A violence I am intimately familiar with as a Black woman with loved ones who are currently incarcerated.

Each of the panelists there agreed that while these high tech policing tools aren’t perfect, they could still be useful resources in helping officers become more effective at maintaining public safety. The questions they wanted the audience to contend with were the issues of transparency and oversight. Yet while I agree with the sentiment that communities of color want safety in their neighborhoods, high tech policing tools such as predictive policing software — or carceral devices such as electronic monitoring — do not in fact ensure that these communities will be protected from state sanctioned violence, whether it be at the hands of the police or at-large by the criminal legal system. Instead, they risk turning our communities into open air prisons and our homes into sites of incarceration.

The uncomfortable truth is that technology is not neutral simply because it’s a scientific innovation. Predictive policing software uses data from the criminal legal system, which means that this data is a reflection of who has been historically policed and arrested — it’s not a reflection of crime. So for Black and brown communities, predictive policing software is nothing new, but rather a continuation of age-old discriminatory policing. This is true for devices like electronic monitors, which continue the tracking and surveillance of Black bodies on which this country was founded. True reform, whether it’s changing policing practices or seeking alternatives to incarceration, means dismantling the racist roots of oppression that drive these practices to begin with. Without a critical analysis however, technology merely expands the harm caused by policing and the criminal legal system.

This is why our campaign, Challenging E-Carceration, is rooted in the principles of harm reduction and abolition. This two pronged approach allows us to fight for the abolition of these devices while also allowing space to address the immediate harms caused by these devices. Our guidelines to respecting the rights of individuals are rooted in a belief that those who are involved in the justice system or formerly incarcerated have rights. An abolitionist framework isn’t about ignoring the realities of violence. It’s about recognizing that our responses to harm and violence cannot be rooted in state sanctioned punishment, invasive technology, institutionalized violence, and racism.

Myaisha Hayes is the National Organizer on Criminal Justice & Technology at the Center for Media Justice.


Share your own stories about electronic monitoring with @mediajustice on Twitter using #NoDigitalPrisons.

This is part five in a a series titled #NoDigitalPrisons. Learn more about the issue here.

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