GPS ankle bracelets reduce domestic violence injuries in Connecticut

A pilot state program that requires certain domestic violence offenders to wear GPS ankle bracelets is proving to be highly successful.

So far, the program, one of the most comprehensive in the country, has put the GPS ankle bracelets on 168 high-risk offenders in the Hartford, Bridgeport and Danielson regions. And it’s proving effective: No one in the test areas has been killed or injured since the program began in 2010.

Connecticut has an average of 15 domestic violence deaths a year.

“It’s a really strong intervention and works well in very high-risk cases for keeping victims safe,” said Karen Jarmoc, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“I think the preliminary results are fabulous,” said Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield, a ranking member of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee who has served on several domestic violence task forces.

Based on the results, Kissel favors expanding the program statewide.

“While we certainly, as a state, need to keep our budget in line, keeping citizens safe is important, and I think we should try to fund this statewide,” Kissel said.

The program is aimed at protecting victims from offenders who have previously violated protective orders and are deemed particularly high risk.

Domestic violence experts said there have been several cases where a GPS warning system might have saved a life, including the case of Tiana Notice, 25, who was stabbed to death outside her Plainville apartment on Valentine’s Day 2009 when her former boyfriend violated a restraining order.

This is how the Connecticut GPS system works: A judge in Hartford, Bridgeport or Danielson orders the offender to wear the GPS device. The victim is given a corresponding GPS device to either carry with her or keep at home, depending on whether she wants to be alerted no matter where she is or just when she’s at home, at work or in other key places.

If the offender gets within 5,000 feet of the victim, the victim is notified. If he gets within 2,500 feet, the victim is alerted, and local police respond to the victim’s house. In addition, family services and the state’s attorney are notified, and the offender must make a court appearance.

The key to the program’s success is a combination of aggressive enforcement and tight collaboration between the judicial system, local police and domestic violence workers, said Joseph DiTunno, program manager for the state’s judicial branch.

There are similar, smaller-scale programs in other counties and states, including Vermont, Massachusetts, Illinois and Washington, D.C., but Connecticut’s program is one of the most comprehensive in the country, Grant said.

The pilot program costs about $500,000 a year to run. Initially, the program was paid for with a federal grant and more recently, funded through the state Judiciary Department budget. If it is expanded statewide, it would be rolled out gradually, costing $928,000 the first year, and $1.9 million every year after that.

Originally, the plan called for the offenders themselves to pay for their own GPS devices. But the state quickly discovered that many of these offenders were indigent and only a few could afford the $22-a-day cost of the program.

Jarmoc, of the domestic violence coalition, said that while the program has proven effective, it is also quite expensive. She said it would be worth “having a conversation” to make sure the program is the best use of limited domestic violence dollars.

Steve Grant, director of juvenile and family services judicial branch, said the program has made a “huge difference” in protecting domestic violence victims.

“We have not had any victims injured. That’s a pretty telling statistic,” he said.
 

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