Mass Monitoring

58 Pages Posted: 2 May 2017

See all articles by Avlana Eisenberg

Avlana Eisenberg

Florida State University - College of Law

Date Written: May 1, 2017


Business is booming for criminal justice monitoring technology: these days “ankle bracelet” refers as often to an electronic monitor as to jewelry. Indeed, the explosive growth of electronic monitoring (“EM”) for criminal justice purposes — a phenomenon which this Article terms “mass monitoring” — is among the most overlooked features of the otherwise well-known phenomenon of mass incarceration.

This Article addresses the fundamental question of whether EM is punishment. It finds that the origins and history of EM as a progressive alternative to incarceration — a punitive sanction — support characterization of EM as punitive, and that EM comports with the goals of dominant punishment theories. Yet new uses of EM have complicated this narrative. The Article draws attention to the expansion of EM both as a substitute for incarceration and as an added sanction, highlighting the analytic importance of what it terms the “substitution/addition distinction.” The Article argues that, as a punitive sanction, EM can be justified when used as a substitute for incarceration, but that its use as an added sanction may result in excessive punishment and raises significant constitutional and policy concerns.

The Article’s findings have crucial implications for hotly contested questions over whether monitoring can be imposed retroactively and whether pretrial house arrest plus monitoring (which resembles the post-conviction use of monitoring as a substitute for incarceration) should count toward time served. The Article provides a framework for addressing these questions and, at the same time, offers practical policy guidance that will enable courts and policymakers to ensure that EM programs are genuinely a cost-saving, progressive substitute for incarceration rather than another destructive expansion of government control.

Keywords: Criminal Law, Prison Reform, Electronic Monitor, Anklet, Punishment, Technology, Mass Incarceration, Retroactive, Ex Post Facto Clause, Pretrial, Ankle Bracelet, Radio Frequency, GPS, Collateral Consequence, Incarceration, Sex Offender, Surveillance, Sanction, Punitive

Suggested Citation

Eisenberg, Avlana, Mass Monitoring (May 1, 2017). Southern California Law Review, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

Avlana Eisenberg (Contact Author)

Florida State University - College of Law ( email )

425 W. Jefferson St.
Tallahassee, FL Florida 32306
United States

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