Global Positioning System Monitoring of High-Risk Sex Offenders: Implementation Challenges and Lessons Learned

Published date01 December 2020
Date01 December 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2020, Vol. 31(9) 1259 –1285
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0887403419884723
Global Positioning System
Monitoring of High-Risk Sex
Offenders: Implementation
Challenges and Lessons
Alyssa W. Chamberlain1, Sarah M. Smith2,
Susan F. Turner3, and Jesse Jannetta4
Agencies incorporating new technology inevitably face challenges in the
implementation process. In response to the passage of Proposition 83, which
mandated lifelong supervision of people convicted of sex offenses in California, San
Diego County initiated a pilot program assessing Global Positioning System (GPS)
monitoring of such offenders considered high risk for reoffending. Using interviews
of parole agents and administrators, parole agent records of supervision, and GPS
monitoring data, we assess the challenges and lessons learned from the program
which help inform the current policy context of electronic monitoring. Results
show that rigorous GPS supervision involves substantial workload and resource
increases for parole agencies, and may not be appropriate for all individuals
convicted of sex offenses. The ethical and legal challenges of electronic monitoring,
more generally, require further attention. The future of GPS monitoring will
depend on how programs are implemented and resources are managed, as well as
how ethical issues are addressed.
community corrections, GPS, sex offenders
1Arizona State University, Phoenix, USA
2California State University, Chico, USA
3University of California, Irvine, USA
4Urban Institute, Washington, DC, USA
Corresponding Author:
Alyssa W. Chamberlain, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Arizona State University, 411 N.
Central Avenue, Suite 600, Phoenix, AZ 85004, USA.
884723CJPXXX10.1177/0887403419884723Criminal Justice Policy ReviewChamberlain et al.
1260 Criminal Justice Policy Review 31(9)
Over the past several decades, heightened emphasis has been placed on effectively
managing and supervising individuals convicted of sex offenses. Much of this focus
resulted from a series of high-profile cases triggering legislation requiring increased
restrictions on these individuals’ movements within communities. The Sexual
Offender Act of 1994 mandated that offenders provide law enforcement a current
address for inclusion in a sex offender registry (Levenson & Cotter, 2005; Levenson
& D’Amora, 2007), while the passage of Megan’s Law required that states notify
residents about people living in the community who have been convicted of sex
crimes (Levenson & Cotter, 2005). Most states have since adopted their own ver-
sion of Jessica’s Law that expands registration requirements, enhances residency
restrictions, and requires the use of electronic monitoring to track offenders’ move-
ments in the community.
California’s version of Jessica’s Law, the Sexual Predator Punishment and Control
Act, also known as Proposition 83 (Prop 83), resulted in nearly 400 changes to existing
California law regarding the manner by which individuals convicted of sex crimes
were sentenced, supervised, and monitored in the community (Boyd, 2007; Sexual
Predator Punishment and Control Act). The law’s most significant provisions related
to the ability of law enforcement to track and apprehend people convicted of sex
offenses, such as excluding them from living within 2,000 feet of any school or park,
and mandated Global Positioning System (GPS) supervision for life (California
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation [CDCR], 2008).
In 2010 alone, nearly 9,000 such offenders were released in California, all sub-
ject to lifelong GPS supervision (Bulman, 2013; CDCR, 2008, 2016). Although the
passage of Prop 83 mandated that sex offenders be placed on GPS for life, the law
did not specify who was responsible for monitoring offenders once their parole
term was completed. Importantly, the CDCR is responsible for supervising sex
offenders only while under parole supervision. Given the return to determinate sen-
tencing of some offenders in the 1990s in California and other states, offenders with
“expiration sentences” might not be monitored by the state, as they are not man-
dated to parole terms once they complete their prison sentences. Private companies
may monitor these individuals, but it is unclear which, if any, agency is responsible
for monitoring them. These types of gaps between legislation and the practical
realities of enforcing such legislation pose potential consequences for public safety.
With large numbers of offenders to monitor, the passage of these new laws and
strategies presented formidable challenges to CDCR.
Crime legislation is sometimes hastily drafted following localized, rare incidents
and then extrapolated across many states or even to a national level (Griffin & Stitt,
2010); as a result, its passage and implementation may be complicated by a lack of
clear guidelines. California’s Prop 83 was passed within a similar context and was
approved without a clear plan for its implementation. In anticipation of Prop 83,
CDCR began testing the use of GPS technology to track offenders in an attempt to
minimize some of the issues it might encounter after its passage. In June 2005, CDCR

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