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The state of Connecticut is using technology to keep an eye on some burglars out on parole. It's outfitting the most dangerous offenders with GPS ankle bracelets when they leave prison.
As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, it's part of the response to a home invasion robbery that took place almost a month ago - a mother and her two daughters were killed. The perpetrators were allegedly two burglars out on parole.
TOVIA SMITH: Police say the Cheshire Connecticut family was held hostage for hours and brutally attacked before being left to burn by two career burglars. The story has dominated local news ever since.
(Soundbite of various newscasts)
Unidentified Woman #1: One week after the deadly Cheshire home invasion.
Unidentified Man #1: The deadly home invasion in Cheshire. Two men with long criminal history…
Unidentified Woman #1: …will be fully examined by the state. We learned more mistakes were made.
Unidentified Woman #2: People want answers. They want to know why did these two men…
SMITH: Responding to the outcry, Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell has already made it harder for the most dangerous burglars to get parole. And now, the 200 or so who do get out will be virtually shadowed 24/7. Unlike traditional electronic bracelets that monitor only if a person is home or not, Connecticut is paying nearly half a million dollars a year for GPS devices that can track an offender's every move.
Mr. JASON BEDARD (Parole Officer, Connecticut Corrections): See at 7 a.m., he's heading out Route 9.
SMITH: From his office in Hartford, parole officer Jason Bedard peers down at a street map on his computer screen and shows off how easy it is to track his offenders.
Mr. BEDARD: He's heading down the highway. But right now, this guy's in total compliance. Everything's green.
SMITH: But jump to the next frame and you can see where the green light at the bottom of the screen turn red.
Mr. BEDARD: I can tell if something's wrong. The red means violation.
SMITH: In this case, from last week, the offender went somewhere he shouldn't have, violating his parole. Bedard had the guy arrested and sent back to prison.
Mr. BEDARD: He was surprised, to say the least.
SMITH: Connecticut, like most states, has been using GPS technology to track sex offenders. Now, focus is beginning to turn to other criminals. Florida, for example, has been tracking people convicted of everything from murder to drunk driving. One study shows offenders who are wearing the bracelet are 90 percent less likely to break the law than those who are not wearing it. Offenders at this Hartford parole office agree. The device is a real deterrence.
Mr. ERON DIAZ(ph) (Out on Parole): It prohibits you for wanting to do things you want to do, you know?
SMITH: Twenty-eight-year-old Eron Diaz on parole for a drug conviction has worn one of the older electronic bracelets. And even that, he says, has kept him from doing things he wasn't supposed to.
Mr. DIAZ: I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about it every once or twice, but I - I'd be honest, so many times I know better, you know? There's no way around it.
SMITH: But even parole officers caution GPS tracking is no silver bullet. You still see guys even robbing banks while wearing the bracelets. And eventually, the bracelets come off and criminal activity often resumes. In fact, one of the suspects in the Connecticut home invasion wore an electronic tracking device for several months. He was arrested for the murders just four days after it was removed.
Connecticut Parole Officer Jose Cartagena(ph).
Mr. JOSE CARTAGENA (Parole Officer): This shouldn't be misconstrued as a device that's going to end crime, because it's not. It's just an added tool to try to minimize some of the risk factors.
SMITH: But there are some who say Connecticut may be misusing that tool by focusing on one category of burglars while there are gang members, wife beaters or attempted murderers, for example, who might be even more dangerous.
Mr. CARL WICKLAND (Executive Director, American Probation and Parole Association): I think we need to paying attention to those people that we're scared of, not the people we're mad at.
SMITH: Carl Wickland heads a national parole officers' advocacy group. He says states should decide who wears a GPS device based on an individual risk analysis, not one horrific incident.
Mr. WICKLAND: This is headline-grabbing stuff, and I'm sure the governor's trying to do something quickly to put public fear at bay. But I think it's dangerous and it's not necessarily wise to let emotion drive the policy.
SMITH: For their part, state officials say they are open to tracking other violent offenders. But they say it makes sense to focus on burglars.
Bob Barr, chairman of the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles, says burglars are among the most likely to reoffend.
Mr. BOB BARR (Chairman, State Board of Pardons and Paroles, Connecticut): It seems to be one of those crimes that people, once they start doing it, that ends up to be their career in many cases.
SMITH: Besides, Barr says, GPS is not necessarily as effective in deterring or even detecting certain other kinds of crime.
Mr. BARR: I mean, you could have an electronic monitor and be in the apartment where you're supposed to be and still be selling drugs. But you're not going to be able to burglarize homes without it showing up on the GPS system.
SMITH: Connecticut may have chosen to track burglars just because of the recent tragedies, but according to the experts, burglars are exactly the kinds of criminals most likely to be deterred by the GPS devices.
Tovia Smith, NPR News.
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