By Joe O'Connell
For almost a decade, the Massachusetts Probation Service has been keeping an eye on probationers, parolees and sex offenders through its electronic monitoring program.
Started as an alternative to keeping offenders in jail, the program, which celebrates its 10th anniversary next month, monitors 1,930 criminals across the state from its Clinton headquarters, which is open around the clock.
"The technology is fantastic," Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early said. "It is an effective tool that gives an offender incentive to behave."
"Here they speak about some released sex offenders going on to commit further crimes, but lawmakers continually ignore that, released non sex offenders go on to commit SIX sex crimes to every ONE committed by a released sex offender. So, for the THREE sex offender crimes mentioned in this article there were EIGHTEEN sex crimes committed by released non sex offenders. See DOJ 2003. Are lawmakers sacrificing victims?"
But some public safety officials still argue that there is no substitute for incarceration.
Offenders can always remove their monitoring bracelets and commit a crime before police can catch up, although most state officials agree that those cases are rare.
"I've held the bracelets myself and have looked at them very closely," Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis said. "It is extraordinarily difficult to even attempt to remove."
In just the last two months, though, there have been two local incidents where offenders removed the bracelets.
On Tuesday, [name withheld], a Connecticut man, removed his tracking bracelet and fled to Framingham, where he was charged with holding a woman against her will in the Red Roof Inn.
On March 18, [name withheld], a violent sex offender on lifetime parole who once lived in Upton, cut his bracelet off, threw it in the back of a pickup truck and fled to Maine, where he was later arrested.
Last year, [name withheld] took off his GPS bracelet, authorities say, and then raped a Framingham woman in her apartment. French was wearing the bracelet after serving eight years in prison for raping another Framingham woman in 2001. He is a Level 3 sex offender.
- You can't stop someone determined to commit another crime, no matter what regulations you pass.
The bracelets are made so an alert goes off when offenders tamper with the devices, and an arrest warrant follows since removing a bracelet violates parole or probation.
But that doesn't stop some offenders, which is why Joseph DiPietro, founder and president of Protect Mass Children, argues that the system is flawed.
"It doesn't work," DiPietro said. "There is only one thing that works and that is jail. If we have to build more prisons to keep our children safe, so be it."
DiPietro started Protect Mass Children last year as he looked for a way to strengthen mandatory sentences for sex offenders. The organization has contributed to three bills in the state Legislature that would, among other things, make mandatory sentences for repeat sex offenders the law.
"How many times do people have to cut off their bracelets and rape someone before the state wakes up and says this isn't working?" DiPietro said. "The state should be finding ways to keep these people in jail."
- Don't forget, the punishment should fit the crime.
Middlesex District Attorney said, however, that the bracelets aren't meant for those types of criminals.
"If we think someone is a violent offender, we ask that they go to jail," Leone said. "In certain cases, (the bracelet) is not an appropriate substitution for incarceration. But when we do ask for a monitoring bracelet, we are under no illusions that it is somehow going to keep people safe from a predator who can do a bad act with it on."