November 20, 2012

Monitor bracelet cutting easy to do, but rare, US Marshals say

By Michael Shepherd
Staff Writer

and David Hench
Staff Writer

Not many people in Maine try what the U.S. Marshals Service say former state prosecutor James Cameron did last week.

Karen-Lee Moody, the chief U.S. probation officer in Maine, said it is rare for a prisoner to remove an electronic monitoring bracelet. Over the 22 years she's worked in the office, Moody said she could only think of a couple times someone has done it.

Even so, it's not hard to do.

Scott Landry, a regional administrator with the Maine Department of Corrections, said that physically removing an ankle monitoring device is not difficult.

"They're very easy to get off with a pair of heavy duty scissors or a knife," he said.

However, any kind of active monitoring system -- which shows where the wearer is -- would send an immediate alert if the device were cut off. That alert is designed to go to the servicing vendor, which would then notify local authorities.

"They can be cut off but we're going to know pretty quickly," Landry said.

Moody said her office uses three types of electronic monitoring systems, all of which use ankle bracelets: radio frequency, in which a bracelet communicates with a box via telephone lines; passive GPS, which communicates via satellites and cell towers and compiles periodic reports of locations; and active GPS, which communicates the same way as passive GPS but gives instant reports.

She said radio frequency has the most reliable transmission in rural places where cellphone or GPS coverage isn't adequate. She called active GPS monitoring the most intense method.

Cameron's monitoring apparently used the radio frequency method because a court document said it required a landline to operate. Moody said people deemed to be larger risks would likely get a GPS method.

"If you have a sex offender that you need to monitor closely, you would put them on active GPS," Moody said. "We might even create exclusion zones," barring them from places like schools.

The probation office monitors about 400 people statewide, Moody said, and it has two specialists -- one in Portland, one in Bangor -- who can take calls at all hours of the day from the private company that provides monitoring services if someone appears to have tampered with their device.

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