Ankle bracelets for aliens

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According to NPR, DHS is testing a plan where aliens waiting for decisions on their cases will wear monitoring ankle bracelets. Obviously, this is good for people who would otherwise be put in jail, but I wonder about the equilibrium effects. DHS can only afford to put so many people in jail, but ankle bracelets are a lot cheaper, so it seems likely that at the end of the day a lot more people will be wearing bracelets than would otherwise be in jail. Whether you think this is good or bad rather depends on how important you think it is to keep close track on aliens with indeterminate status.

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That's not necessarily the issue--one could believe that all aliens with indeterminate status should go completely free, and still prefer many of them to have ankle bracelets rather than see a few of them thrown into jail. Personally--speaking as an actual alien--I'd much rather face a non-negligible likelihood of getting a monitoring bracelet locked onto my ankle one day than even a very tiny likelihood of spending possibly months in the slammer.

By the way, as I understand it, "indeterminate status" means "arrested on immigration violations, and awaiting a deportation hearing". In other words, these are people out on the equivalent of bail, awaiting trial. It seems to me that the ankle bracelet solution, if it works, might well be a better solution for people awaiting trial as well--and for the justice system in those cases--than the current rather weird bail system, which involves putting up significant sums of money to encourage people not to skip bail. If nothing else, the ankle bracelet approach treats people the same way regardless of their personal wealth.


We may be talking about different things here.

When DHS arrests people, it has three choices:
(1) keep them in jail
(2) release them on bail
(3) release them on their own recognizance.

If you're in class (1), obviously an ankle bracelet is an improvement. If you're in class (2), it may be good or bad depending on the amount of bail. If you're in class (3), however, it's bad.

If ankle bracelets are cheap, then it may result in a lot of people being moved from class (2) and (3) to class (4): ankle bracelets... That may or may not be good for them. That's what I mean about equilibrium effects.

Eric, your assumption here seems to be that there are well-defined "classses" of people who are deterministically destined to be assigned one of the available measures. Thus people in the "will be jailed" class benefit from ankle bracelets, whereas those in the "will be released" class would lose out.

I think it's more accurate, though, to think of all aliens as facing some probability of being assigned to each of those classes. After all, the reason being given for introducing the bracelet system in the first place is lack of jail space for violators. Hence, without the new system, whether a particular alien is jailed or released for a particular violation may well depend on whether there's space currently available in one of the jails--which might as well be treated as a random variable.

Under this probabilistic model, it's perfectly reasonable for me, and most or all other aliens as well, to prefer the ankle-bracelet system--even if it increases the likelihood of being monitored--over the jail-based system, because I (like many others, I expect) value reducing my chances of incarceration much more highly than I value reducing my chances of being braceleted.

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