Electronic Monitoring: Perceptions and Experiences of Chronic Violent Offenders- research proposal


Reentry of offenders back into the community has been a growing concern for criminologists and policy makers. Due to the amplified incarceration rates over the past several decades, and the notion that the majority of offenders will eventually return home from prison, many are left wondering what the effects are going to be once a significantly greater number of offenders are released back into communities. Given the issues that offenders already face upon reentry (inability to find work, low education rates, stigma, housing obstacles) there are already numerous roadblocks in place that lower reintegration back into society.

Additionally, parole stipulations may serve as a barrier to effective reentry and reintegration, such as the use of electronic monitors on offenders during the initial release from prison. While electronic monitors are seen as a safety precaution, an aid to reduce public concern, and a mechanism upon which to have higher surveillance on offenders during their initial release, it can cause issues for offenders, including barriers to employment and technical violations. Both of these issues can be grounds for parole violations, increased stipulations or sanctions, and potential reincarceration. The goal of electronic monitoring following an incarceration, however, is an initiative to try and limit offender movement to effectively reduce recidivating and increase societal reintegration upon release.

Numerous studies have been conducted to test the effectiveness of electronic monitors and some focus more specifically on the offenders’ perceptions of electronic monitors and how that technology effects daily activities, relationships, and deterrent capabilities, though more studies should be considered (Finn & Muirhead-Steves, 2002; Gainey & Payne, 2000; Padgett, Bales, Blomberg, 2006; Payne & Gainey, 2004; Renzema & Mayo-Wilson, 2005) There is still a large lack in the literature on offender perceptions of the electronic monitoring. To date, there have been no studies that target violent offenders’ perceptions alone. Most of the previous literature utilizes mixed populations, with the majority being traffic, or driving under the influence, offenders. Only one study has tested the effects and perceptions of offenders on electronic monitoring upon release from prison (Gainey & Payne, 2000; Gainey & Payne, 2003; Gainey, Payne, & O’Toole, 2006; Payne & Gainey, 2004)

As will be discussed, it is posited that chronic violent offenders make up a unique portion of the offender population. Due to the differences of violent offenders from other offender populations, it is suggested that this population may respond to electronic monitoring, or have different perceptions and experiences with electronic monitors, then other types of offenders. Additionally, receiving electronic monitors as a parole sanction upon release from prison could have different implications for these offenders then individuals who received only the electronic monitor as a criminal sanction, or who spent a short time in jail prior to receiving an electronic monitor.

The first section of the paper will discuss relevant literature about the reentry experience, parole, and electronic monitors. The paper will then examine relevant studies that have examined offender perceptions of electronic monitors. It will then discuss the reasons as to why violent offenders, and in particular, repeat violent offenders, are a unique offender subgroup that needs to be examined separately. The second section will describe the current study and the methods and data that will be utilized in the future. The third section will include a preliminary discussion on potential outcomes. Finally, the last section will include policy initiatives and implications.

Review of Related Literature

Prison, reentry, parole

            The shift in punitive ideologies for corrections in the United States that occurred since the mid-20th century led to an insurmountable increase in the number of individuals sentenced to prison (Nagin, 2013). Prison populations more than tripled during this time causing a range of problems, including overcrowding, lack of programs and treatment options, and budgetary confinements. At the same time, the United States became the leading model in how to run and operate prisons, moving away from the rehabilitation model and moving towards greater levels of surveillance and control (Austin, Hardyman, & Brown, 2001). Inmate classification protocols evolved to assess the risk levels of offenders, which would dictate the prison experience that one encountered, the programs that one would receive during incarceration, and parole stipulations (Austin et al., 2001; Austin, 2003; Bench & Allen, 2003; Dowdy, Lacy, & Unnithan, 2002). In more recent years, movement towards the rehabilitation model has increased, but not substantially. Early release, parole, and electronic monitoring have become more prominent as policy makers attempt to combat the issues facing the corrections system (Petersilia, 1999).

Parole is used as a back end sentencing mechanism to reduce overcrowding, lower prison expenditures, and begin the reintegration process of offenders back into the community (Petersilia, 1999). While under parole supervision, offenders must complete mandatory treatment or counseling, submit to substance screenings, avoid technical violations and new charges, and obtain employment and stable housing (Petersilia, 1999; Petersilia, 2003; Visher & Travis, 2003). Issues can arise during parole and the reentry process for offenders, however, due to the inability to obtain gainful employment, the stigma associated with just being released from prison, difficulties in finding housing and obtain welfare assistance, and technical violations (Petersilia, 2003; Pager & Quillian, 2005; Rubinstein & Mukamel, 2002) Additionally, due to the large number of individuals being released on parole, parole officers are overwhelmed with caseloads, which has led to less focus being put on the rehabilitation component of parole, and more on surveillance and control mechanisms (Caplan, 2006). As such, some statistics suggest that approximately sixty-seven percent of offenders are rearrested within three years, about half are reconvicted, and about forty-percent return to prison (Lin, Grattet, Petersilia, 2010).

Electronic Monitoring

More recently, electronic monitoring has been used as a stipulation of parole upon an offender’s release from prison. In some jurisdictions, electronic monitoring is utilized only on select, or low-risk, offenders (Feeley & Simon, 1992; Padgett et al, 2006; Renzema & Mayo-Wilson, 2005) These often include individuals convicted of driving offenses or misdemeanors (Gainey & Payne, 2000) As part of parole, however, more offenders being released from prison are receiving some form electronic monitoring stipulations as well (Payne & Gainey, 2004). Electronic monitors started becoming more prominent as a criminal sanction in the 1980s. The use of electronic monitors varies by jurisdiction and who is eligible to receive an electronic monitor varies depending on that state’s legislation (DeMichele, Payne & Button, 2009)

The two primary types of electronic monitors are the radio frequency (RF) and the global positioning systems (GPS) monitors (DeMichele et al, 2009; Kilgore, 2012; Padgett et al., 2006; Wroblewski, 2008). The main difference between the two types of monitors is that the GPS monitors, depending on whether it is active or passive, can track an offender’s location more accurately. As such, GPS monitors are used more often on individuals convicted of sexual offenses (Bulman, 2010; Demichele et al., 2008) RF monitors, on the other hand, receive a signal from the ankle monitor that is worn by the offender at all times, which relays to a device that is installed in the offender’s home. The parole officer periodically receives information from the device regarding whether or not the offender is within range of the device when they do not have pre-approved movement times (Martinovic, 2002; Renzema & Mayo-Wilson, 2005). The goal of both types of electronic monitors is to restrict offender movement, only allowing for pro-social opportunities and treatment, and reduce the risk of reoffending.

Studies assessing electronic monitoring

Currently, the results of previous literature on the assessment of the effectiveness of electronic monitors on various groups of offenders are mixed. In a study using high-risk sex offenders in California, the results indicated that, for offenders not on electronic monitors, there was a thirty-eight percent higher chance of returning to custody, through either a new criminal charge or parole violation and revocation compared to those on electronic monitors (Gies, Gainey, Cohen et al, 2012). Similarly, other research indicates that using electronic monitors can substantially reduce the rate of failure, recidivism, technical violations, and absconding while on parole (Bulman, 2010; Di Tella, 2010; Padgett, Bales & Blomberg, 2006). Finn and Muirhead-Steves (2002) compared one-hundred and twenty-eight high-risk offenders on parole with electronic monitors with a comparable sample of one-hundred and fifty-eight offenders on parole who were not on electronic monitors. The authors concluded that the electronic monitor had no direct effect on the likelihood that an offender will return to prison, but results did indicate positive interactions for sex offenders.

Comparatively, other studies demonstrate that electronic monitoring does not lower recidivism or reduce crime effectively (Bonta, Wallace-Capretta & Rooney, 2000; Renzema & Mayo-Wilson, 2005). These scholars suggest that there is little evidence that demonstrates crime reduction capabilities for offenders on electronic monitors, and that the ultimate effect of utilizing electronic monitors as a sanction only adds to the “net-widening” of the criminal justice system (Bonta et al., 2000). Using a meta-analysis of studies ranging from the onset of policies allowing the use of electronic monitors (1986 to 2002) to test the effects of electronic monitors on recidivism, Renzema and Mayo-Wilson (2005) conclude that utilizing electronic monitors as a method to reduce crime is not supported by the current data. The meta-analysis, however, did not include GPS monitors and is at present over a decade old. More up-to date literature should be reviewed to account for these discrepancies to further test the effectiveness of electronic monitors.  

Offender perceptions of electronic monitoring

To further understand the effects that a punishment will have on an offender, it is important to incorporate how the offender views the sanction. Particular perceptions could have an impact on overall behavior, namely, prosocial actions and less criminality. To date, there is a relatively low amount of literature on offender perceptions in general, and a greater lack of research on offenders’ perceptions of community sanctions. Key research that tried to fill this void was conducted by Gainey and Payne (2000, 2003, 2004, 2006). The authors created a 24-item survey that included close-ended survey questions that were measured using a four-point Likert scale. The study did not specify a target population, but offenders in general, thus the results did not account for differences by offense. The studies had mixed types of offenders, but included a large portion of individuals convicted of traffic offenses.

The results indicated that most offenders appreciated being on the electronic monitor over jail time due to safety, family, freedom, and employment reasons. Later follow-up work suggested similar results, plus indicated the positive aspects associated with the ability to seek treatment and continue working. It was also found that electronic monitors caused embarrassment and punishes family members as well (Martin, Hanrahan & Bowers, 2009). From a policy and offender perspective, electronic monitoring is a viable sanction for helping offenders reintegrate back into society, remain in communities, and does not increase absconding (Payne & Gainey, 2004). These studies, though beneficial, utilized mostly offenders convicted of traffic offenses or misdemeanors, did not spend time in prison, had constraints contacting the target population, and most respondents were around forty years of age (Ganey & Payne, 2000, 2003; Gainey, Payne & O’Toole, 2006; Martin et al., 2009; Payne & Gainey, 2004), leaving a gap in the literature regarding electronic monitoring and violent offenders upon release from prison.

The unique case of chronic violent offenders

Repeat, or chronic, violent offenders are a unique group of offenders in a multitude of ways. Though not all violent offenders are identical in nature, there are common themes and theoretical constructs around which violence develops, including biological, social, and bio-psycho-socially that could impact perceptions of sanctions and the experience of sanctions like electronic monitoring. (Athens, 1989; Pincus, 2002; Raine, 2013). Biologically, some studies have indicated that offenders with low arousal rates, lower heart rates, and lower levels of anxiety can only reach the normal physiological states during acts of increased aggression (Raine, 2013). As such, offenders may seek out sensational behaviors in order to raise physiological functioning and feel a normal level of stimulation (Scarpa & Raine, 1997).

Violence can also be learned through social learning mechanisms, such as violentization (Athens, 1989, 2005, 2015). The theory of violentization argues that individuals who may not start out with biologically aggressive tendencies may develop dangerous, violent behaviors through a series of stages that begins in early childhood (Athens, 1989). The individual may experience direct violence, witness close group members being victimized, and ultimately begin modeling violent behavior as a result. The violent behavior becomes part of the individual’s natural responses to situations, often resulting in extreme violence over situations where violence would seem excessive (Athens, 1989, 2005, 2015).

Combining bio-psycho-social elements, other research finds that violent behavior can develop through a combination of interacting factors. Individuals who are born with neurological deficits or who have brain injury may be more susceptible to violent behaviors, though this quality does not itself determine whether or not a person will be violent (Pincus, 2001). Important qualities like empathy and morality, which are learned throughout childhood, may be neglected in an environment or household that is toxic or abusive. For a person who has undergone abuse or neglect in childhood, developmental differences may occur, thus personality deficits like depression can result, increasing the potential for violence (2001). Therefore, the interaction of brain trauma, abuse, and learned negative behaviors results in the increased likelihood for violent behavior, suggesting that violent offenders have a unique disposition and require separate methods of examination.

Additionally, studies indicate that violent offenders may have different characteristics from other types of offenders. A comparison of violent offenders with rapists and child molesters by Gudjonsson and Sigurdsson (2000) indicates that both types of sex offenders are significantly more introverted than violent offenders, and were more likely to victimize relatives, friends, or acquaintances. Violent offenders are more likely to victimize strangers. Child molesters were found to have a strong internal desire to confess their crimes to the police, and rapists were more likely to retract their confession while at trial. Violent offenders did neither. Child molesters are rarely intoxicated while the crime is occurring, compared to rapists and violent offenders who are more likely to be intoxicated during the crime commission. Additionally, as previous literature demonstrates, electronic monitors may have more beneficial deterrent effects on sex offenders compared to other populations. The finding, however, may be due to the type of electronic monitor used: GPS as opposed to RF monitors.

Another important distinction between violent and other offenders is the high rates of intoxication for violent offenders during the commission of a crime, which could be the result of the disinhibiting effects of alcohol on repressed feelings of anger and resentment (Gudjonsson & Sigurdsson 2000) These could be traced back to early developmental stages, abuse, or growing anger during an incarceration period. Unloading the anger during intoxication could be a form of release for violent offenders. Similarly, the fact that violent offenders are more likely to victimize strangers could be due to the effects of intoxication. These could lead to the assumption that violent offenders are more opportunistic and the crimes are less premeditated as opposed to other types of offenders (2000) The lower levels of self-control, due to intoxication or otherwise, could result in a rapid escalation of an argument or minor traction that sets a violent offender off with an extreme reaction. The uniqueness of violent offenders easily triggers a violent outburst that average individuals would find over the top.

Following the assumption that violent offenders have a unique set of developmental and personality characteristics that adds to the opportunistic factors during crime commission, a comparison between violent and property offenders is fairly straightforward. Much of the theoretical literature discusses why individuals commit property crimes. Strain theory would suggest that life situations and circumstances results in an offender’s likelihood to rob or steal (Agnew, 1992). Social learning theory (Bandura, 1977) and the more modern differential association theory (Sutherland, Cressey & Luckenbill, 1995) would state that offenders learn criminal behavior from peers, and especially for those residing in inner cities (Anderson, 2000), may be more likely to engage in acts of criminality, such as property crimes. Likewise, the general theory of crime (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990) would suggest that property offenders have lower levels of self-control, and consequently, when presented an opportunity to offend they will be more likely to take it. In sum, there may be some overlap between property offenders and violent offenders, but overall, property offenders are more likely to come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, experience strain due to concentrated disadvantage, and learn behaviors from delinquent peers that results in higher rates of property offenses compared to repeat violent offenses. Therefore, it is important that chronic violent offenders on electronic monitors are examined singularly to account for the many differences in development, environment, and personality factors that impact why they offend the way they do and the perceptions and experiences they may have.

Currently missing in the existing reentry and electronic monitoring literature, however, is a focus specifically on violent offenders, especially those who have committed more than one violent offense, and their perceptions of the electronic monitor as a sanction. Similarly, most previous studies have focused on mixed groups of offenders that include those convicted of felonies, misdemeanors, and traffic offenses. In each instance, a large number of individuals have received the electronic monitoring sanction due to a driving under the influence offense, in which case electronic monitoring is mandatory in some jurisdictions. To date, only one study has focused on electronic monitoring of offenders who have just been released from a period of incarceration, however, the sample used in this study reflects offenders who would have experienced a jail term, work-release program, just the electronic monitor, or a variation of the three in tandem (Gainey et al, 2006). Therefore, it is critical that more research is done on offenders just exiting a prison sentence and who are attempting to reintegrate back into the community. The effects, consequences, and implications of electronic monitors on offenders reentering society after long prison stints may be dramatically different than those on electronic monitors who have not experienced prison, and even more so for chronic violent offenders.

Present study

In order to fill the void in the literature and study the perceptions of a unique group of offenders and how this perception affects their experience on electronic monitors upon release from prison, the following study seeks to address the following questions:

Research questions:  

 What is the general experience of electronic monitors for chronic violent offenders?

Do violent offenders find electronic monitors to be a deterrence to present or future criminal behavior?

Do violent offenders perceive electronic monitors to be beneficial or detrimental to their reentry experience upon release from prison?

Do electronic monitors increase or lower parole violations for violent offenders?

What policy lessons can be learned from chronic violent offenders just released from prison?

Potential Methods and Data Gathering

The data will be gathered from offenders who have been on electronic monitors as a stipulation of parole upon release from prison. To keep the number of cases as high as possible, offenders who have had one or more violent offense convictions will be included. If there are enough violent offenders who have multiple violent convictions on record they will be compared to offenders who only have one violent offense to account for any potential differences in situational violent offenders compared to chronic, or repeat, violent offenders.

In order to reach this specific subgroup of offenders, snowball sampling will be utilized. It is posited that repeat violent offenders have distinguishing personality characteristics and thus would be more likely to associate with similar or like-minded individuals while incarcerated. Additionally, individuals who may have engaged in greater amounts of violence that is not officially documented would be reachable through the snowball sampling approach. By solely looking at official records, many individuals who have engaged in numerous acts of violence may be unaccounted for.

Individuals who are already off parole will be contacted and, under strict anonymity, asked if they would be willing to participate in a research study. It is anticipated that phone and in-person interviews will be utilized if the person of interest is not located within a relatively close distance. The interview will take approximately forty-five minutes to an hour and a half. The interview tool that was utilized to develop the interview protocol for the present research is the Prisoner Reentry in Missouri: Interview Protocol. Since the focus of the original interview protocol was to target sex offenders, some questions have been removed or changed. In order to include electronic monitoring and parole specific questions, another section has been added (See Appendix 1).


At present, the outcomes for the study can only be speculative. As such, the discussion section will remain short until interviews are conducted. It is posited, however, that violent offenders will have a difficult time adjusting to an electronic monitor. Due to their nature and temperament, being newly released from prison but having additional monitoring and restriction stipulations will be a hardship and may lead to increased violations and unauthorized movements. For this reason, electronic monitoring may be viewed as a punitive sanction for violent offenders. The consequence, though, is whether or not the offender will comply to all of the sanctions or violate at a higher rate. For a deterrent effect, however, it is posited that violent offenders will not view electronic monitors as a deterrent as compared to other types of offenders previously studied. The opportunistic and impulsive nature of violent offenders could lead to deviant or criminal behavior at higher rates than individuals who were merely sentenced to a monitor for a driving under the influence offense.

The type of monitor may influence behavior however, with GPS monitors having a greater deterrent effect than RF monitors. Offenders on GPS monitors may perceive that they are unable to “get away” with as much, which may reduce the chance of committing a new crime. Most GPS monitors are on sex offenders, though, and the target population will most likely have experience with RF monitors. For individuals who are determined to use the prior incarceration as a turning point, or who have just reached the average point of “aging out,” the electronic monitor may just be the one extra sanction they need while they are readjusting to life in the community.

Policy Initiatives and Implication

The policy initiatives for electronic monitoring of violent offenders should focus on teaching positive, prosocial behaviors and not on deterrence and violations. Electronic monitors should continue to be used, but instead of solely focusing on violations, drug-tests, and surveillance, the electronic monitor should be used to supplement treatment and other requirements. Consequently, the policies from such a suggestion would not be well-received given the punitive nature of society. Prior literature does show, however, that the more educated the population is on punishment, the less punitive they are likely to be. These results hold true even with electronic monitors, which much of the public views as too lenient a sanction (Payne & Gainey, 2004) Thus, providing an educational narrative on electronic monitors to the community would provide a greater acceptance of the use of monitors on violent offenders, given that the outcome goal for monitoring this group alters to a more rehabilitative approach. A proposal to accommodate the public and the offender is laid out below.

To satisfy public safety concerns and help the reentry process of violent offenders back into the community upon release from prison, electronic monitoring should be implemented with conditional behavioral therapy requirements. Electronic monitor sanctions need to be supplemented with a rehabilitation component that targets violent offending behavior. Violent offenders should be required to have weekly visits with the parole officer until a stable, full time job is acquired. Parole officer caseloads need to be reduced in order to effectively monitor violent offenders for the first three to six months’ post-release, which is arguably the period of time with the highest recidivism rates.

The goal of utilizing the electronic monitor during this time is to target the criminogenic effects that could lead to future violent behavior, other criminal behavior, or parole violations. Offenders need to have a strict no substance use policy since many violent crimes are committed while the offender is under the influence of various substances due to the disinhibiting effect of intoxication. The strict no substance use policy should be supplemented with substance treatment programs to aid in sobriety and not simply rely on technical violations and drug testing as a deterrent. Violent offenders, and offenders on electronic monitors in general, need to develop goals and create a plan that will help accomplish those goals with their parole officers. The goal sheets and plans of actions should be reviewed on a monthly basis.

Other issues that should be addressed to mitigate some of the potential negative consequences of electronic monitors include the slow turnover rate of phone calls to parole officers, getting movement approved in a more efficient and timely manner, especially with last minute job interviews. Electronic monitors should also allow extended movement or more range so an offender can partake in activities such as walking the dog or going to the grocery store. These small behaviors can add to the reintegration process by gradually normalizing life in society again, while lowering the risk of violating the electronic monitoring sanction. An additional factor to help aid in the reintegration and reentry process includes allowing movement for volunteer programs. Offenders should be given approved movement time on weekends but as part of the stipulation have to complete a certain amount of the allotted time doing community involvement and volunteering actions. More time involving the offender in community programs will also help in the reentry process, allow the community to engage with the offender, and act as a reintegration agent.

Many of these policy implications could be used on offenders on electronic monitors in general and not just chronic violent offenders. However, it is posited that the greatest effect size would be seen on the target population. Future research should attempt to flesh out the individual differences of electronic monitors on different types of offenders just being released from prison and implications for effective management strategies of new releases from prison.

Appendix 1

Partial Survey Protocol (Developed by author, as it pertains to electronic monitoring)

I want to ask you about your experience with electronic monitoring and parole


  1. When you were released from prison did you have to wear an electronic monitor?
    1. If yes, for how long? __________________
    2. What type of monitor?________________
  2. How did you feel upon learning that you had electronic monitoring as a parole stipulation?



  1. How long did it take to get EM set up? What was the process?


  1. How long after EM was set up did it take for parole officer to arrive?
    1. What movement did you receive from parole officer first? IRT time?



  1. What activities did you do when you were at home on house arrest? (probe: work out, tv, drink)


  1. Did you drink alcohol regularly while on EM?
    1. If yes, how often? (once per day, week)
    2. If yes, quantity of alcohol consumed on average? (one drink, five drinks, ten drinks)


  1. Did you use drugs while on an electronic monitor? After electronic monitor? Both?
    1. how often did your parole officer drug test you on house arrest?


  1. Ever a situation that involved drugs or alcohol that you were invited to and declined due to the EM?
    1. If yes, describe the situation
    2. What was your main reason for declining? Was it the EM?




  1. Did you ever leave your home during a time when you did not have approved movement?
    1. If yes,
    2. How often did this happen?
    3. Did you receive a call from parole?
    4. Did you receive a call from the department of corrections?
    5. Did you receive any extra stipulations or extension of house arrest/EM?


  1. When asking for movement time through the DOC hotline, how long did it take to get ahold of someone/parole officer? Parole call back time?



  1. Did having an EM affect other aspects or relationships in your life? Such as family, friends, employment? How so?


  1. Did having an EM affect mood, motivation, stress? How so?



  1. Were you ever involved in a situation where there was violence? (Punched, kicked, hit, or used harmful weapon against another person or property?)
    1. If yes, please explain the situation(s).



  1. Were you able to get time approved for family outings or events?


  1. Did your parole officer ever deny a movement request?


  1. If yes, please explain situation/circumstance, what was requested.


  1. Have you been on an electronic monitor before? (For those with prior incarceration histories)
    1. Success or failure?


  1. Did you ever want to cut the EM off?
    1. How often did you think this way?
    2. Why didn’t you?


  1. Was there ever a time when you thought that the EM helped you? Or was a positive stipulation to have?
    1. If yes, describe the situation


  1. Probation compliance checks
    1. Home or not? If not, was anyone?
    2. Drug-tested?
      1. Passed or failed?
    3. Home searched?
    4. Any weapons found?


  1. Did the electronic monitor deter any behavior? If yes, please explain what behavior and why?




  1. Do you think the electronic monitor is beneficial upon reentry into your community?




  1. What do you think is the point of using an electronic monitor upon release from prison?


  1. Did your behavior change after the electronic monitor was removed? (i.e. drinking or drug habits become more regular/increase? Staying out later? Not going to/missing assigned responsibilities like work, school, or treatment?)


  1. What else could be beneficial in place of an electronic monitor?


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