The Issue

The Research Question

The Study

As the number of pretrial detainees has declined in San Francisco since January 2020, those court-ordered for pretrial, electronic monitoring has increased dramatically. San Francisco appears to have replaced surveillance in detention with surveillance in individuals' homes and communities. Few have studied the costs of electronic monitoring from the perspective of those who are impacted by this increasingly popular form of pretrial surveillance. This study is an effort to better understand how pretrial, court-ordered electronic monitoring affects individuals’ lives. Our research team is conducting in-depth phone interviews with participants, paying particular attention to the effect electronic monitoring has on individuals’ physical and psychological well-being; employment; housing stability; debt burden; ability to fulfill familial obligations; and more.

 

The Issue 

In January 2020, the San Francisco District Attorney announced that his office would no longer impose cash bail; only in cases where defendants are deemed a “public safety risk” would they be held pretrial. Not surprisingly, SF's jail population has declined significantly since, by roughly 25 percentage points. However, as the number of pretrial detainees has declined, those court-ordered for pretrial, electronic monitoring has increased dramatically. San Francisco appears to have replaced surveillance in detention with surveillance in individuals' homes and communities.  

The logic underlying this shift toward electronic monitoring is that electronic monitoring imposes far fewer social costs to defendants than does pretrial detention. Still, critics charge that pretrial electronic monitoring can create many of the same harms as incarceration, including debt accumulation, job loss, family disruptions, and the like.

 

The Research Question 

Few have studied the costs of electronic monitoring from the perspective of those who are impacted by this increasingly popular form of pretrial surveillance. This study is an effort to better understand how pretrial, court-ordered electronic monitoring affects individuals’ lives. 

 

The Study 

Our research team is conducting in-depth phone interviews with participants to determine what impact electronic monitoring has on their physical and psychological well-being; employment and wages; housing stability; debt burden; ability to fulfill familial obligations; social capital access and mobilization; trust in legal authorities; and future penal system involvement, including new criminal complaints.

 


 

Research Team

Sandra Susan SMith

Sandra Susan Smith

Research Lead, Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice, Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute, and Professor of Sociology 

Lindsay Apperson

Lindsay Apperson

Research Coordinator

Cierra Robson

Cierra Robson

Research Assistant

Harvard Kennedy School Research Assistant

Morgan Benson

Radcliffe Research Partners, Harvard University

Amisha Kambath
Lilah Penner Brown
Isabel Levin

University of California, Berkeley, Research Assistant

Jaqueline Lepe

Research and Commentary


Smith, Sandra Susan, and Cierra Robson. "Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The Social Costs of Pretrial Electronic Monitoring in San Francisco." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP22-014, September 2022.

Related Resources


Susan A. Hughes. "San Francisco has fewer pretrial detainees in jail. But at what cost?" HKS Policy Topic, September 16, 2022.

ACLU Lawsuit Challenges San Francisco Sheriff’s Unconstitutional Search and Surveillance Conditions for Pretrial Electronic Monitoring, ACLU of Northern California press release, September 8, 2022.

Johanna Lacoe, Alissa Skog, and Mia Bird, “Bail Reform in San Francisco: Pretrial release and intensive supervision increased after Humphrey,” Policy Brief, California Policy Lab, May 25, 2021. 

James Kilgore, Emmett Sanders, and Myaisha Hayes. (2019). No More Shackles: Ten Arguments Against Pretrial Electronic Monitoring: a report for Challenging E-Carceration and the #NoDigialPrisons Campaign. MediaJustice pp. 1-26.

Karla Dhungana Sainju et al, “Electronic Monitoring for Pretrial Release: Assessing the Impact,” Federal Probation 82(3): 3-10, 2018.