Like more and more people released from immigrant detention centers, Grace, a single mother from El Salvador, was imprisoned for over a year before being released with an ankle monitor – what families call “grilletes,” Spanish for shackles. “It’s like they make us free, but not totally free. It’s the same psychological game as detention. They aren’t freeing us totally. It’s, ‘If you break a rule, if you don’t tell us you’re leaving, we’ll put you in detention again.’”1 Pseudo-freedom offers more opportunity to control and capitalize on the electronic afterlives of imprisonment. Quite literally, those wearing the shackle must pay for their containment. The same companies that have federal contracts with Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement (ICE) and profit from immigrant prisons have moved into the ankle monitor business now that holding families seeking asylum has come under intense public criticism.2 In fact, as I write this, Microsoft employees are demanding that the company drop a $19.4 million contract with ICE for facial recognition and identification software – what Microsoft originally dubbed “transformative technologies for homeland security and public safety.”3 Technical fixes operate in a world of euphemisms, where nothing is as it seems. One of the companies with longstanding ties to ICE, GEO Group, calls their facilities “family residential centers,” while lawyers and human rights advocates rightly call them “family prisons.”4 Likewise, the purportedly more humane alternatives to prison, part of a growing suite of “technocorrections,” should just be called what they are – grilletes.
As the devastation wrought by racist policing and mass incarceration in the United States gains widespread attention – from President Obama’s Fair Sentencing Act to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Plata, which addresses prison overcrowding, and to the publication of books such as Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow – many proposed reforms incorporate technology designed to address the crisis. Foremost in this trend is the popularity of using electronic monitoring (EM) technologies to resolve the unsustainable and unconstitutional overcrowding of jails and prisons by having “mass monitorization” rather than mass incarceration.5 Whereas ankle bracelets are typically associated with white-collar crimes and relatively privileged felons (think Martha Stewart), they are now being rolled out on a much larger scale, such as Philadelphia’s pilot program, where 60 percent of inmates are waiting for trial and 72 percent are people of color.6 Proponents argue that EM costs less, increases public safety, and allows those monitored to integrate into work and family life, as they either await trial or serve parole.