Patterico's Pontifications


GPS Used to Track Truants (Updated)

Filed under: Civil Liberties,Education — DRJ @ 1:57 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

San Antonio court authorities recently announced a 6-month pilot program covering approximately 50 high school students that will use GPS ankle bracelets to track truants:

“We are at a critical point in our time where we can either educate or incarcerate,” [Bexar County Justice of the Peace Linda] Penn said, linking truancy with juvenile delinquency and later criminal activity.

Penn said students in the program will wear the ankle bracelets full-time and will not be able to remove them. They’ll be selected as they come through her court, and Penn will target truant students with gang affiliations, those with a history of running away and skipping school, and those who have been through her court multiple times.”

The Texas ACLU applauded efforts to keep kids in school but was concerned about privacy issues since students can be tracked full-time, including during after-school hours.

The article mentions that this program has already been used in other Texas communities, although I wasn’t aware of it. It’s an aggressive program and, in my opinion, a close call. There are legitimate privacy concerns but students who drop-out of school are the biggest losers. There may also be racial issues since drop-outs are often minorities, especially Hispanics, in many Texas communities.

It reminds me of that old saying: Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. Foreclosing aggressive efforts to keep kids in school could preserve students’ privacy but sacrifice their futures.

UPDATE 8/25/2008: I didn’t realize it but this program started 10 years ago in West Texas where I live. This online article describes how successful it’s been and why it’s spreading to other cities in Texas, including San Antonio.


23 Responses to “GPS Used to Track Truants (Updated)”

  1. Drop-outs often use drugs. So by looking at the GPS data of several truants, you may be able to find out where a lot of drug dealers are.

    Or at least find out where they are going instead of school, so you can catch more truants.

    It is sad stuff to see kids give up their education, though it’s always (And yeah, I mean always) a result of lame/absent parenting at some point.

    Juan (4cdfb7)

  2. So, the big idea is to use technology to force kids who don’t want to be in school into classrooms where they can disrupt instruction for students who do want an education.

    It’s not PC, but rotten apples are well known to have adverse effects on otherwise healthy fruit. Let the truants remove themselves from the classroom, it’s better that way.

    Ropelight (4a83c9)

  3. Ropelight,

    Large Texas communities have alternative high schools that students with criminal or truancy problems attend, not only to keep them away from the regular students (for the reasons you suggest) but also to provide specialized tutoring and counseling. My community and others like it have tried countless programs over the years to encourage drop-outs to finish school, but they have no incentive as long as they can get jobs. Most jobs are dead-end jobs in manual labor but that doesn’t seem to matter to them.

    I’d agree with you if it was just a few students but it’s not. The problem is massive: 10-20% of some high schools are drop-outs, most of them Hispanics. There are countless communities that fail the No Child Left Behind standards solely because of their drop-out statistics. The worst part is that it’s getting worse, not better.

    DRJ (a5243f)

  4. Does the school district get the use of these ankle bracelets for free?
    If not, squeeze out another blood penny in taxes.

    Icy Truth (c38387)

  5. Ummmm. Close call. I see an opportunity for mischief on the part of individual juvenile judges, though if strictly limited to juveniles with other serious problems (drug addiction, vandalizing, gang affiliation, gang crimes) that gets them out of juvenile hall into the community/continuing counseling but monitored is good.

    Darleen (187edc)

  6. DRJ, look on the bright side.

    If large numbers of kids drop out of school then competition for low wage jobs will increase and tend have a dampening effect on illigal immigration.

    Perhaps we could even provide jobs for drop-outs keeping a lookout along our borders. You got lemons, make lemonade.

    Ropelight (4a83c9)

  7. “Penn said students in the program will wear the ankle bracelets full-time and will not be able to remove them.”

    What does that even mean? Are the anklets made of some stronger-than-steel-super-space-age-unbreakable-titanium alloy? If not, what’s to stop the kid from using a hack saw or sledge hammer and busting the stupid thing?

    A “student” doesn’t want to go to school, is in a gang, and is such a persistent truant that he has been hauled in front of a judge, but, he is going to refrain from removing the anklet because. . . . . .what, he’ll “get in trouble” if he does? What a crock!

    Public school is a free benefit provided to all young people, not a jail sentence. Nor is anyone doing the taxpayers a favor by attending school. Those over a certain age, certaitnly those old enough that their parents can’t “make” them go to school, should be free to drop out if they want to.

    Not all high school dropouts are criminals, and many of them get jobs. I happen to know some who did so, eventually started their own small businesses, and have done quite well for themselves, even though they didn’t stick around for the 12th grade to read Chaucer.

    On the other hand, I realize that a lot of these kids are going to become criminals. But I think they would have done so anyway, with or without the anklet. Whether they get busted for truancy, or for removing the anklet, what’s the difference? Why not just let them be until they actually commit a real crime?

    ruddyturnstone (623ad7)

  8. Here’s another take on the use of GPS:
    Mexican’s are using a GPS implant to try to thwart kidnappers, who are a growing problem again in that country.

    Another Drew (03674a)

  9. Juan, it’s exactly that kind of thinking that causes me to oppose what is otherwise a pretty sensible solution to the problem of truancy.

    Nels (364116)

  10. Beyond the technical issues of removing the bracelet, I’m unaware of any GPS technology that can not be blocked. GPS itself only provides current time and distance from a given satellite; it does not have reporting capability (or for that matter, much else). The GPS trackers my company has tested usually hook into local cell phone networks to report data; others tend to rely on other radio or even local wifi networks.

    None of these are exactly difficult to block. 1575.42 mhz is buggered up by simple concrete and steel, and everyone knows various places that they can’t get a cell phone working. Looping the damned thing in a bunch of lead foil is not something that requires a high school degree.

    gattsuru (1bd83e)

  11. gattsuru, a bracelet that fails to show location data for school is going to be a violation. So shielding is not an effective hack.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  12. Sorry DRJ but tracking truants just creeps me right out. There’s already enough government tracking and snooping and spying going on around this country.

    Everyone thinks that it’s only THOSE people, those “troublemakers”, that are gonna get tracked but it is just human nature to game any system, even if the people doing the tracking are good, law-abiding, conservative, Christian, government employees.

    Better to not give them permission to track other people’s kids.

    I believe that maxim about power.

    EdWood (4545e9)

  13. I respect that viewpoint, EdWood, and I agree it’s a close call. It’s made easier for me when I focus on the fact these students are already multiple offenders in the criminal justice system. Who knows? Maybe they prefer GPS tracking to a stint in juvenile detention.

    DRJ (a5243f)

  14. Mike K,

    Thanks for the link. I’m bookmarking Mickey Kaus’ blog for the real convention news.

    DRJ (a5243f)

  15. We have been brainwashed to believe that forced schooling is the best and only way to an education. Recommendned reading “The Underground History of American Education” by John Taylor Gatto

    Lolo (41c019)

  16. What happens when the device isn’t huge and power-hungry and costly? We should maybe not dig too deep a hole, lest we find we’re in it.

    It’s not just “them” — lots of law-abiding Americans are finding themselves (or people with similar names) on government screening lists. Be careful how much power you give Clouseau.

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

  17. “. . .a bracelet that fails to show location data for school is going to be a violation. So shielding is not an effective hack.”

    But wouldn’t the school attendance records provide this same violation information at less expense, with less fuss, and without implicating any privacy concerns? Forced GPS monitoring makes sense, at least technically, when the issue is that the monitored person NOT leave a particular place (like a person under house arrest) or NOT go to a particular place (like a person subject to an order of protection not to be on the same block as his ex-spouce’s domocile), but it doesn’t make sense in this case, because the issue is that the kid MUST be at a particular place, and that place keeps track of which kids are there and which are not. If the kid doesn’t go to school, the authorities don’t need the GPS to be aware of that fact. Where the kid actually goes instead is not important, at least for purposes of establishing truancy.

    And, it’s not like the authorities have so little to do that they’re going to run out and arrest the kid the minute his GPS shows he’s not in school during school hours. When they do get around to arresting him, the school attendance records are just as dispositive at showing that he “cut” school as are the GPS data.

    The whole thing is a classic case of fetishizing high tech and using it where it’s not necessary and inefficient. The good old low tech school attendance records provide all the data needed to enforce the truancy laws, if that’s what the actual concern is here.

    ruddyturnstone (623ad7)

  18. We don’t need no stinkin’ bracelets!

    The truant officers knew where to find me, I was always down by the river, messin’ around in boats. Most of them would agree to take a nice fresh fish home, instead of taking me back to school. Usually, it worked out best, all the way around.

    Ropelight (4a83c9)

  19. DRJ: i’m concerned that this technology will get more intrusive over time, and that each new use of it lowers the bar of resistance to future uses.

    It’s already being used in California for convicted sex offenders (under the terms of a ballot initiative). Now truants seems like a good idea; tomorrow it will be parolees; who is next?

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  20. Agreed DRJ, I mean what’s next? Bar codes on their wrists and chips implanted in their brains?

    Oiram (983921)

  21. Oiram @ 8:51…
    That’s been reserved for the Chomsky-Korp!

    Another Drew (6c5558)

  22. I”ll sit by the sidelines and watch how this one pans out. Popcorn, anyone?

    Gregory (f7735e)

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