Electronic Monitoring

Assessment of the Effectiveness of Electronic Monitoring on Supervision and Post-Supervision Outcomes

Effectiveness of Electronic Monitoring

As early as 2000, more than 30,000 criminal offenders living in the community in the U.S. were monitored by electronic surveillance equipment for at least one day, and state and federal legislation passed in 2005 (including Florida state legislation arising out of the abduction, molestation, and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lundsford) promised to catalyze exponential growth in that number in the years ahead. There will be a considerable increase in the use of electronic monitoring devices for sex offenders living in the community, not only low risk but moderate to high risk offenders may be expected as well.

However, research has not kept pace with the rapid implementation of this new and promising penal strategy. In fact, until 2006, very little empirical research on the effectiveness of electronic monitoring for serious offenders in the community had been published and made accessible to the policy-makers and practitioners who were advancing its use. To date, only one methodologically rigorous examination of EM’s effectiveness for serious offenders has been published in the scientific, peer-reviewed literature. Given the inevitable increase in the use of EM in the immediate future, policy makers and practitioners will surely face more questions about its effectiveness in protecting public safety, as well as concerns about the relative cost-effectiveness of using such technology as an alternative or supplement to incarceration.

In an effort to address the dearth of empirical evidence, FSU criminologist Bill Bales is undertaking an 18-month study funded by the National Institute of Justice to specifically address the effectiveness of electronic monitoring in protecting public safety and reducing the likelihood of expensive eventual sentences to prison for serious offenders on home confinement. Additionally, the study will examine how and why EM works and at what cost to public safety and public coffers. The research will consist of three components: an outcome evaluation, a process evaluation, and an estimation of cost-effectiveness.

The outcome evaluation will test the effectiveness of EM in reducing the likelihood of failure while on home confinement with three outcome measures: recidivism (revocation for a new offense), revocation for a technical violation, and absconding. The data to be used for this analysis are historical and will effectively “follow” a cohort of offenders from placement on community supervision to two years post-placement to determine if and to what degree EM reduces their likelihood of recidivism, technical violation, and/or absconding. For a subsample of the population, additional analyses will be conducted to examine the effect of EM following removal of the surveillance device for up to two years post-removal.

The process evaluation will add a qualitative dimension to the descriptive statistics and quantitative data analysis generated from the summative evaluation. The process evaluation will collect in-depth information about the program and its operations to provide richer data on some of the more quantitatively elusive aspects of the program’s operations. In order to capture descriptive data on the program and the environment in which it operates, the evaluation will rely on a variety of data collection strategies and data sources, such as: field observations; reviews of media reports and legislative hearings; survey questionnaires of program and agency staff; and face-to-face and telephone interviews with program personnel, agency staff, and offenders. It is anticipated that, coupled with the outcome data analysis, the findings from the process evaluation will highlight some of the apparent strengths and limitations of the Florida Department of Correction’s EM program.


Principal Investigator: William Bales, Ph.D. 

Project Advisor: Thomas Blomberg, Dean and Sheldon L. Messinger Professor of Criminology

Funding Agency: National Institute of Justice

Amount: $281,976

Years: 2007-2009