Slacker’s Syllabus: E-carceration

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Incarceration is expanding.

The United States incarcerates more people than any other country, with over 2 million people in prison alone.

As incarceration grows, the U.S. is turning to alternative methods to contain people beyond prison walls.

Collectively, these methods of confinement are known as e-carceration.



How much the percentage of people monitored with ankle bracelets and other electronic devices rose over 10 years.

Pew Charitable Trust

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The Challenging E-carceration project defines e-carceration as “the use of technology to deprive people of their liberty.”

Ankle monitors are the most obvious examples of e-carceration. But it also includes facial recognition technology, license plate readers, and databases like Nlets.


The rate at which Black people are more likely to be under electronic monitoring compared to white people.

Vera Institute of Justice


E-carceration has big issues.

Firstly, it builds on legacies of surveilling and controlling the movements of Black people.

It is also a form of data criminalization — which the Community Justice Exchange describes as when certain people are made into threats “based on data culled about them from state and commercial sources.”

Electronic monitoring can gather information like location tracking data and attendant metadata with few regulations on how long that information can be kept, or why.

Private companies that contract to provide EM to law enforcement typically store location data on monitored individuals and may share or sell clients’ information for a profit. This jeopardizes the safety and civil rights not just of the monitored, but also of their families, friends, and roommates who live, work, or socialize with them.

E-carceration is often seen as a criminal justice issue.

But the lines between criminal justice and other fields are not as clear as you might think.

E-carceration is a form of electronic monitoring — and that can be found everywhere. It is growing incredibly quickly in immigration contexts in particular.

For years, ICE has built its Alternatives to Detention program, which not only uses ankle monitors but also cell phone apps to track asylum seekers while they await trial.

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E-carceration also puts many people into debt.

In 2019, The New York Times reported that private e-carceration companies can charge people hundreds of dollars a month. For example, Daehaun White had to pay a private company $10 a day for as long as he wore an ankle monitor. To even get the monitor put on, White owed $300 up front.

That cost alone isn’t the only issue. Debt itself can come with other repercussions.

James Kilgore, the project director of Challenging E-Carceration, wrote that he once connected with a man who was on house arrest and could not afford his monitor fees. So probation officials decided to use his access to mental health care as leverage.


The [federal] probation folks added a new twist to debtor’s prison — they wouldn’t let him out of the house for his mental health appointments until he paid his [electronic monitoring] fees. Even a letter from his therapist to the probation officer didn’t yield a response.