By Elizabeth Libro

 

When most people hear the terms “Global Positioning System (GPS) Satellite Monitoring”, “GPS Tracking”, or “Electronic Monitoring”, in regards to criminal offenders they tend to think of high risk offenders such as murderers, sex offenders, and domestic violence offenders.  One would not think that truant teenagers could be lumped into the category of individuals who are given GPS Trackers to monitor their whereabouts.  One small Texas town, however, has been utilizing GPS Trackers as an Alternative Sentencing Program for years to monitor truant teenagers in order to keep them in school, off the streets, out of gangs, and on the right track.

 

GPS monitors were designed to make sure individuals who committed crimes did not skip bail, re-offend, or end up back in jail or prison.  In Texas, being a truant child was considered a criminal offense.  In 2008, Midland, Texas Judge David Cobos came up with the creative idea of giving truant children GPS monitors, for a short period of time, in order to lower the percentage of students in Midland who were regularly skipping school, involving themselves in gang related activities, and then ending up in his criminal court room.  The device monitored the students’ movements 24/7.  It was worn by the student for as little as a month to as long as three months, depending on whether or not the child showed a pattern of staying in school, staying away from trouble, and being where they are supposed to be.  If they did not show an improvement or a willingness to improve, the only alternative at the time was getting sent to a juvenile facility or being sentenced to jail.  Judge Cobos has been giving truant children GPS monitors since 2008.  As a result, the number of students skipping school and taking part in criminal activity in Midland, Texas drastically decreased.

 

Due to a recent change in Texas truancy laws in the past year, truancy is no longer considered a crime in Texas.  Rather, truancy is now considered a civil issue and criminal penalties are no longer applicable.  Under the old laws, students 17 and older were sent to Truancy Courts where they could face jail time for their truancy, as well as, a criminal complaint being filed against the parents of the child for their negligence and failure to properly parent their child.  Now, students will only be fined and are required to enroll in a truancy prevention program through their school, however, the possibility of a criminal complaint being filed against their parents is still present.  That means that students no longer face jail time for their unexcused absences.

 

This change in law raises several issues for individuals such as Judge Cobos who have worked diligently to lower the number of truant children in their area.  Since GPS monitoring has typically been used for criminal offenses only, will Judges be allowed to utilize this option when addressing the issue of truancy now that it is a civil offense? There have been no discussions about dropping GPS monitoring as an Alternative Sentencing Program for now.  In fact, more cities and towns around Midland, Texas have started to utilize the Alternative Program to lower their truancy rate by incorporating the solution into the mandatory truancy prevention programs.  Maybe incorporating GPS Trackers into truancy prevention programs is the future solution for preventing the increase in truant children.

 

Student Bio: Elizabeth Libro is a 3L at Suffolk University Law School.  She is a Lead Note Editor on the Journal of High Technology Law, President of the Suffolk University Law School Softball Club, and Vice President of the Suffolk University Law School Women’s Law Association.

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.

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