Digital Jail: How Electronic Monitoring Drives Defendants Into Debt

Originally Published February 25th, 2020

As of today, the United States still has the highest incarceration rate in the world. That is why ankle bracelets are now being used as an alternative to incarceration.

Through electronic monitoring devices, the US is now expanding house arrest programs successfully. They believe that these devices are part of the solution to the overcrowded prison in the US.

However, these electronic monitoring devices are driving defendants into debt. Ankle bracelets are costly. You’ll be charged monthly for this surveillance device if you don’t want to stay behind bars.

Most ex-convicts eventually returned to jail because of non-payment for the monitoring device. (Related: Can Non-payment of Debt Send You to Prison?)

Here are some instances where electronic monitoring devices drove people into debt.


White, being a careless teen, drove a stolen chevy which according to him was lent by his friend. He had no previous convictions. He wasn’t aware that the car was stolen. All he knew was he was driving his friends around.

He was charged with tampering a motor vehicle, driving a car without the owner’s consent. He was sent to St. Louis’ Medium Security Institution, a city jail known as the Workhouse.

White was held overnight there where he assumed they would release him the next morning. However, there was a $1,500 bond that he nor his family couldn’t afford.

Erika Wurst, his public defender, was able to persuade the judge to lower the bond to $500 cash. Since his family still couldn’t afford it, The Bail Project, a nonprofit fund, paid it for him. (Related: How to Post Bail When You Have No Money)

Here’s what he had to say after the bond was paid:

“Once they said I was getting released, I was so excited I stopped listening,”

However, when he was released after a month, a letter from his public defender was handed to him by the prison guard.

He thought he was going to walk free until he realized there was a catch. The judge had ordered him to wear an ankle monitor that would track his location at every moment using GPS.
Of course, this device doesn’t come cheap. Eastern Missouri Alternative Sentencing or EMASS, a private company that handles these devices, charges $10 per day for the ankle monitor to work.

White would have to pay $350 to EMASS just to get the monitor attached and to cover the first 25 days. Either you pay, or you stay in jail.

Daehaun White came from a poor family. He couldn’t even afford to pay rent without having to work two jobs. When he wasn’t able to pay EMASS, the judge issued a warrant for his arrest a week after he left the Workhouse.

Three days later, White was arrested. The police officers didn’t tell him what was the warrant for. He was just transferred back to the Workhouse.  He recalled saying:

“Why am I locked up, again?”

To get him out, her mother, Lakisha Thompson needed to pay EMASS on his behalf. Of course, this seemed unbelievable to her. She felt that she was forced to choose between getting her son out of prison or support the rest of her family. She was able to bail him out, but White still needs to continue paying for the ankle monitor to work.

Three months after the installation of White’s ankle monitor, the court finally allowed for its removal.

However, when he showed up to EMASS to have it removed, they wouldn’t take it off until White paid his debt. EMASS was asking him to pay at least half of the $700 he owed. He still couldn’t take off his monitor because of his debts. He doesn’t even have to have it on, but he can’t get it taken off unless he pays his balance.

According to White, he already had sold his laptop, his phone, and his TV. Unfortunately, the cash went to rent, food, and his daughter. What’s left is still not enough to pay for what he owed to EMASS.

He still tried paying EMASS on what was left of his cash. When he went to the company, they unclipped the band from his ankle with no hesitation. Although he still owes EMASS some cash, he wasn’t sure why they had now softened their approach.

When they calculated the money, White still owes $755, plus a 10% annual interest. When he looked at the receipt, here’s the only thing he could say.

“I get in trouble for living…for being me.”

A pair of hands belonging to a young prisoner of color leaning against the prison fence.


Jackson already spent 4 days into a 120-day sentence in an Alameda County jail when his wife unexpectedly passed away. His incarceration and his wife’s sudden passing left his three young children without a parent at home.

This is the reason why he was allowed for release, but he has to wear an ankle monitor in return. This monitoring device will be managed by Leaders in Community Alternatives (LCA).

Jackson was being charged $250 per week for monitoring fees. He could hardly make it since his weekly paycheck was only $400-$500. For the first 113 days, he was repeatedly threatened with jail time if he didn’t pay. He was forced to sell his car and give up his apartment just so he could pay his debts to LCA.

Yes, he was able to pay the monitoring fees, but it left his family homeless. This was such a tragedy to Jackson’s family. Imagine being kicked out from your apartment when you’re still mourning from the sudden loss of a loved one.


Edwards was battling cancer when he was locked in jail while awaiting trial. Due to non-access to chemotherapy pills, his health was compromised.

He was one of the not-so-lucky individuals who was granted release in exchange for wearing an ankle monitor.

Although he can access his cancer medications, LCA demanded him 20% of his weekly income for the monitoring fees.

We all know how expensive medications are. Edwards was also one of the many convicts who experienced repeated threats if he didn’t come up with the money.

After several hearings, the charges against him were eventually dropped. Unfortunately, he still owes LCA debts since the cost of his monitoring remained.

Truth be told, there are lots of people who are now buried in debt because of this suggested alternative. Electronic monitoring has been widely used for the past decades. So, imagine how many of them have financially and emotionally suffered from these private companies just to have them monitored.

There was an interview taken from the judges of St. Louis about the court’s philosophy for using an electronic monitoring device. A city judge, David Roither, said:

“I really don’t use it very often because people here are too poor to pay for it.”

Yet, Judge Rex Burlison, a presiding judge said that people get arrested because of their “life choices”. He also added that,

“Whether they’re good for the charge or not, they’re still arrested and have to deal with it, and part of dealing with it is the finances.”

According to the judge, releasing defendants without the GPS just because they can’t afford it, is like disregarding the safety of the community.

“We can’t just release everybody because they’re poor.”

It really is hard being poor. Even if you’re not yet proven guilty, once you’ve been played by this system, you can’t do anything at all. (Related: How to Reduce a Prison Sentence)


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Franchette Agatha an author for GlobalTel


Franchette Agatha Jardin believes that everyone has the capacity to help those who are in need. She writes blogs about issues and news surrounding those in prison in the hopes of restoring a little extra faith in humanity