ANDERSON COUNTY – Shon Clark sleeps with his GPS ankle monitor and showers with it. Once when it was too tight, it cut into his leg.
For five years the 41-year-old has worn the ankle device — a black, waterproof box about the size of a small lemon — around his ankle. It never comes off.
“Sleeping is uncomfortable,” Clark said. “But you get used to it.”
James Stancil Jr., 31, has worn the device for six years.
He’s more blunt.
“This thing sucks,” he said. “The battery always needs charging. It irritates my leg, and I always have to wear socks. No one wants to wear an ankle bracelet.”
The bracelets track movements within a few feet.
People covered by the program are given zones where they can or can’t go, and the bracelets are monitored all day and night.
The hassle of ankle monitoring — the daily charging, the loud beeps when something goes wrong, the loss of privacy — is part of the point, said Peter O’Boyle, spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.
“It’s a burden; we hope it’s a disincentive for people to commit sex offenses or to recommit offenses,” he said.
Pulling on a boot too hard or fast can be enough to trigger the alerts, which are instantly sent to supervisors, said Ben Sheriff, owner of Pickens-based Eagle Eye Monitoring.
Sheriff said someone with a cowboy boot once used a razor to cut a hole in it to accommodate the monitor rather than wear shorter footwear.
Turning the band around the ankle too fast is enough to trigger the alert, and leaving approved zones will also trigger it.
Sheriff’s company supervises more than 50 people in Anderson, Pickens, Laurens and Greenwood counties. His clients are out on bond or home incarceration, unlike those under the watch of state probation/parole officials.
“It’s a real good program for protecting a victim,” Sheriff said.
If someone goes where they’re not allowed to go, or if they try to remove the device, an alert is sent within seconds to either companies such as Eagle Eye Monitoring or to state officials who supervise their own programs.
Stancil and Clark are both convicted sex offenders in Anderson County. They are two of the 37 people from Anderson County who are on ankle monitoring as part of the state program.
Most of the people with GPS trackers in South Carolina are sex offenders, according to figures from the Probation, Parole and Pardon Services Department.
Around 800 people in South Carolina wear the bracelets through the state department. Those are all convicted criminals. The state program does not serve people who wear the bracelets while on bond.
About 555 of those are part of the state’s Jessie’s Law, which requires mandatory GPS monitoring for sex offenses with a minor.
The monitoring could be for life. But offenders under Jessie’s Law are eligible for an appeal, to get the bracelets removed, after 10 years. The law took effect in 2006, so the first group of appeals is expected next year, officials said.
Clark and Stancil are not on probation, but their movements are being monitored because of Jessie’s Law.
Similar to probationers, they are required to go to the Anderson County probation office once a month but their routine is simpler.
Officials check their ankle monitors to make sure the devices are functioning.
Stancil and Clark, like almost all offenders in South Carolina with ankle monitors, do not pay the $60 per week in fees, or $3,120 a year, for the intensive monitoring program.
Statewide, the program collected less than 1 percent of the fees, $5,100, in the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
That’s less than two people statewide paying for a full year.
O’Boyle said the program still saves significant money and keeps communities safe.
“Anyone with a criminal record has a harder time getting a job,” he said. “Add in a sex crime conviction and it’s even more difficult. They also have living expenses, child support, victim’s restitution. GPS fees are at the bottom of the list.”
Those who don’t pay, which includes almost everyone, can be referred to a judge. But judges are reluctant to put people back in prison for failure to pay the fees unless there is proof the person is hiding money, O’Boyle said.
Even with the state picking up the tab of almost $3.5 million a year, the Jessie’s Law GPS program saves money, O’Boyle said.
It costs $17,872 a year to supervise someone in the state’s prisons. It costs less than $2,500 a year per person to pay for the monitoring programs, and people on GPS units are able to work and, if they can get a job, pay taxes, O’Boyle said.
“It allows individuals to be productive citizens without creating a problem for the victim,” he said.
Because of the cost, and keeping people from being further hardened in prison, the program is preferable to keeping people behind bars, said state Rep. Mike Pitts, a Laurens County Republican and former police officer.
He said the technology for tracking people outside prison walls has changed dramatically in the last 20 years.
“We don’t need nonviolent people behind the wire (in prison), as we call it, but you do need to have close supervision for these offenders,” Pitts said. “The technology is now within 3 feet or less instead of 100 feet. And it’s improving.”
The bracelets have led to convictions, by placing people at the scene of crimes, and have also led to people being cleared of crimes.
A former local stock car racing champion, Ralph Carnes, was sentenced last year in Anderson to wear the bracelet when he was convicted of committing a lewd act with a minor.
The bracelets are not only for sex offenders.
Eddie Graham, a man who had failed probation five times, was put on a GPS monitor this summer until he could move to Georgia after he pleaded guilty to intimidating a witness, his ex-girlfriend.
This week, Circuit Court Judge Daniel Hall ruled that Thomas Saxon, who is charged with murder, could be out of custody on bond without being subject to GPS monitoring. Saxon’s defense attorney said the shooting was an act of self-defense during a robbery. Hall said the delay in arresting Saxon, more than seven months after the shooting, meant state officials did not show great concern about him being a danger to the community.
Women are more likely to be killed by men in South Carolina than anywhere else, according a study released this year by the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center.
GPS monitoring is a technology that can be used to give victims peace of mind, Sheriff said.
The instant alerts can be used to send officers to the victim’s home quickly, he said.
Oconee County Sheriff Mike Crenshaw has been pushing for more bracelets for criminal domestic violence cases, said Jimmy Watt, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office.
“We’ll be seeing a lot of more of this in the future,” he said.
The accuracy of the devices is helping, along with records of where people go to establish patterns, O’Boyle said.
Adoption of the devices is becoming more popular, and improvements should encourage judges and law enforcement officials to rely more on the tracking devices, he said.
“The effectiveness is going up; the cost is coming down,” O’Boyle said. “The promise of this technology is only getting better.”
One of the challenges has little to do with the units themselves or the cost.
Probation officials are still struggling with the economy and getting convicts employed, said Gerald Black, agent-in-charge of the Anderson County office of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.
He said employers who used to accept sex offenders can now be pickier in a tighter job market.
Clark and Stancil, two of the sex offenders in Anderson County, don’t have jobs.
Many of the people on monitors don’t have jobs.
Being a sex offender, and having the ankle bracelet, has stopped them from getting jobs, Clark and Stancil said.
“I’d rather this than prison, and it’s better than probation,” Clark said. “But employers know about this. And let’s just say employers don’t smile on it. Especially when you have sex crimes in your background.”
Follow Mike Ellis on Twitter @MikeEllis_AIM