Beyond Incarceration: Why We Need Prisons And How Technology Can Reduce Incarceration Rates

By: Richard Windisch

UF Federalist Society general board members (pictured from left to right: Tiffany Batten, 2L; Daniel O'Byrne, 1L; and Rodney Dobler, 1L) with Professor Barry Latzer. "I liked how Professor Latzer had a technological approach to prison reform in conjunction with rehabilitation of offenders,” said Batten, Fed Soc junior president. “I think this is necessary to decrease recidivism in today's world."

The University of Florida Levin College of Law Federalist Society (Fed Soc) hosted Professor Barry Latzer in the Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Classroom on Wednesday.

Latzer gave a fascinating, if not controversial, take on criminal justice reform via modern geo-mapping technology.

“The focus of my talk is on electronic monitoring in the criminal justice field, and as you know, there’s mounting pressure for criminal justice reform in the United States,” Latzer said.

Latzer is a criminologist and emeritus professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York (CUNY). He is a widely published author who has penned four books, most recently “The Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America.” He previously served as the Kings County Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn and as counsel for indigent criminal defendants in Manhattan.

Latzer has devoted the last decade to a major study of the history of violent crime in the United States. Aside from his books, he has written approximately 70 scholarly articles, research reports, magazine articles, book reviews and op-eds.

Latzer’s take on criminal justice reform is primarily a pragmatic approach using GPS tracking technology to ensure that individuals out on bond, probationers, and parolees are meeting the obligations of their release. He believes that the criminal justice restructures undertaken by several states are good in purpose, yet potentially dangerous to put into practice in their current forms.

“All of this is really good for defendants because they don’t have to spend time in jail, especially because they are simply unable to make bail,” Latzer said. “The question I have is: Is it safe for the public? As with virtually every other criminal justice reform, these experiments increase public risk.”

According to Latzer, his plan will balance the needs of public safety against concerns over excess incarceration – particularly of the innocent.

“The real-world choice is not between unconditional freedom and confinement of all offenders alike,” Latzner said. “It’s between release with adequate safeguards and release without adequate safeguards.”

What he proposes is to use geo-mapping with GPS tracking devices in a tripartite manner, which he said will act as both a deterrent and a way to reduce incarceration.

“Parolees, probationers and released pretrial defendants would be required to wear a GPS-enabled ankle or wrist bracelet,” Latzner said. “Deterrence comes because the subject will be aware he’s being monitored. He knows that they know where he is at all times. Probation and parole officers will be able to track the subject in three different ways.”

  1. Geo-fencing “no-go zones” as off-limits,
  2. Geo-fencing inclusion zones like drug treatment facilities and places of employment to remind subjects of their obligations, and
  3. Daily tracking of the subject’s location to determine if he or she was at the scene of a crime at the time it occurred.

The audience voiced concerns ranging from where and how the data will be stored, to whether individuals in high crime areas would get rearrested for merely being in the vicinity of criminal activities, as well as whether this provision violates the Fourth Amendment.

With regard to the constitutionality concerns, Latzer emphasized that the Fourth Amendment right to privacy is based on a reasonable expectation of privacy, and that what is reasonable is modified by the surrounding circumstances.

Latzer made no denial that what he proposes is an imposition that represents a less-than-perfect freedom. However, he believes it represents an improvement over the alternatives of jail or prison for those who are deemed eligible.

“It’s fascinating to see how far criminal law has come, but it’s even more interesting to see how much farther we still have to go in order to correct the issues that present themselves in today’s criminal justice system,” said Daniel O’Byrne, a 1L representative for the sponsoring organization. “Professor Latzner did a remarkable job putting these shortcomings into context, and he gave a number of possible solutions that could revolutionize the current state of criminal justice.”


Richard is currently a 1L at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Prior to attending law school, Richard graduated from the University of Texas with a Bachelor of Science and Arts in Biochemistry and a certificate in business. Richard is eager to try his hand at journalistic writing with The Brief. When he occasionally makes free time, he likes socializing, working out, watching movies, learning useless trivia and reading comedic articles.