Put the shackles on use of ankle monitors

If the horrific event that occurred last week near the town of Mesa — when Robert Matile apparently shot and killed his estranged girlfriend, LaVon Hoffman, then killed himself — were the only instance of court-ordered ankle monitors failing to work properly, it would be bad enough. But it’s not.

Just five months ago in Mesa County, Dartanin Mitchell shed his GPS ankle bracelet and allegedly went on a multi-state crime spree before being recaptured.

Both Matile and Mitchell were able to rid themselves of the ankle bracelets without local corrections officials detecting that they had done so, even though the devices are supposed to send a signal if the person wearing them attempts to disable or remove them.

One doesn’t have to do much research to find out there have been problems in other parts of the country, as well.

The family of a county commissioner who was murdered in upstate New York in 2010 last year sued the company that was supposed to be monitoring — via an ankle bracelet — the man accused of murdering the commissioner. There have been multiple similar problems in Georgia and Texas.

Sometimes, the problems go the other way, with the devices suggesting a monitored person has gone somewhere inappropriate when they actually haven’t.

That occurred with Hollywood celebrity Lindsay Lohan last summer while she was under house arrest for violating previous court orders. Her ankle monitor went off, telling authorities she had left her home. But when they rushed to her house, they found her there.

Ankle monitors can help reduce jail crowding, allowing people to be confined in their own homes or to specific locations. And they may work adequately for nonviolent offenders who simply want to complete their sentences and get on with their lives.

But it is all too evident now that they are far from foolproof, especially for criminals who have a violent background and who are committed to evading the electronic monitoring.

Matile, after all, had been released from jail — just a week before Hoffman’s murder — on a domestic violence charge involving an attack on Hoffman. He was specifically prohibited from going near Hoffman or her family or going on her property. The ankle monitor was supposed to notify authorities if he went near her home, but since he had apparently shed it before he entered the house, it was of little value.

Criminal justice authorities in Mesa County are investigating what went wrong with Matile’s monitor, as well they should. But more needs to be done.

Before any judge in Mesa County orders another violent criminal released with an ankle monitor, the citizens of this county need to be sure the devices can be depended upon, and that those assigned to do the monitoring are properly trained. Additionally, the courts and corrections officers should look closely at others who are currently in the community being tracked by ankle monitors.


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