A 2008 Congressional spending bill will send over $650,000 to Montana to help reduce the number of non-violent offenders housed in public detention facilities by spurring development of improved offender-tracking technology that monitors would-be prisoners while they roam at large.
A good part of the federal money will go to the Montana Offender Notification and Tracking System project, or MONTS. Bringing together Missoula-based AquilaVision, the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association and a group called MonTEC, the program will add refinements to an offender tracking system called OTTER, originally developed by AquilaVision. The OTTER system uses satellite signals to track offenders and vehicles through a real-time, internet-accessible mapping format.
The Executive Director for the Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, Kathy McGowan, says the technology will help overcome challenges facing law enforcement officials in rural areas, where constrained budgets limit the resources available for detention and monitoring of prisoners.
“We’re not monitoring with ankle bracelets anymore,” she says, “It’s all going ontoGPS now.”
AquilaVision representatives say the technology could help drastically reduce detention costs at public facilities. If pre-release programs utilize satellite surveillance technology, non-violent inmates could safely leave detention facilities yet remain closely monitored, saving money and freeing up empty cells in an otherwise cramped prison system.
“We’re facing overcrowding in Montana’s jails,” says law enforcement veteran Bill Slaughter, now Director of Public Safety Solutions for AquilaVision, “If they’re out, in a ‘monitored’ status, they’re out working, paying their taxes, health care, and they don’t need the social services and welfare they need if they’re incarcerated, there’s a lot of savings there.”
Slaughter, who spent over 28 years as Gallatin County Sheriff and served as Director of the Department of Corrections under Governors Judy Martz and Brian Schweitzer, sees promising new markets for this technology beyond the criminal justice system.
“We could have a big market in health care,” he says, explaining how inmate-tracking technology is already being developed to monitor developmentally disabled adults and autistic children.
Unlike prison inmates, however, these adults and children still have their civil liberties, raising potential questions about privacy rights should this technology ever achieve wide use.