This one is made of titanium, outfitted with GPS and impervious to cajoling.
Lewis is being monitored by Alaska Pretrial Services.
“They GPS monitor you, they give you UAs (urine analysis drug tests), they come to the house, they do searches,” he says. “They’re not your friends, they’re not your family, they’re not someone close to you. They’re just doing their job.”
The company was born out of a tragedy.
In February of 2010, Dennis Johnson and his cousin and employee at his private investigation business Edwing Matos were at the Dimond Mall when Matos was shot and killed, allegedly by 28-year-old Terence Gray -- who was out on bail and not with his third-party custodian. Gray is awaiting trial, and Johnson says he doesn’t want to comment on the case to avoid potentially tainting the jury pool with his perspective.
But after the shooting, he says he knew that there was a better way to supervise defendants out on bail. The former law enforcement officer found that individuals as well as institutions and entities could be named third-parties.
So he formed Alaska Pretrial Services, which now monitors more than 130 defendants (including a roster of high-profile clients that Johnson personally supervises) using technology instead of personal relationships.
Electronic monitoring has benefits that a physical third party can't duplicate, Johnson says.
“To be able to find a physical third party that is not biased, that is detached, is extremely difficult if not impossible,” he says. “And a physical third party has to go to sleep. Our system doesn’t go to sleep.”
The company tracks their clients' movements using titanium ankle monitors outfitted with GPS and phones that connect to a call-in line staffed 24 hours a day. At their modest East Anchorage offices, a large computer monitor with a map of Alaska shows blinking dots that representing the GPS-tracked movements of clients, constantly refreshing on screen. Customized “exclusion zones” like the Ted Stevens Airport and sections of highways keep defendants from unapproved travel.
For Lewis, electronic monitoring has another benefit -- he’s able to work his job in the construction industry. With a physical third party custodian, that would be impossible.
“If you’re someone like me who works, who is going to be able to stand around and watch you work, you know, ten hours a day?” he says.
Johnson says courts are increasingly looking at electronic monitoring as an alternative to assigning a physical third party to those out on bail.
He plans to visit Juneau early next year to speak with lawmakers about expanding the system statewide.
Tom Stenson, an attorney with the ALCU of Alaska, says he supports increased electronic monitoring as an alternative to human third party custodians.
But not everyone can afford to pay for it.
Stenson says he's concerned that the people with the fewest resources are the ones who end up spending the longest time incarcerated pre-trial.
“We're incarcerating people not because they're dangerous but because they're not wealthy,” he says.
Thaddeus Lewis pays $540 per month for Alaska Pretrial Services monitoring. He says working allows him to pays his bills and support his family – including a daughter studying at UAF who hopes to become a probation officer.
He feels fortunate.
“Some people don’t have the jobs or the skills to be able to pay for something like this,” he says.
It's better than the alternative, he says: sitting in jail and watching as your car is repossessed, your house goes into foreclosure and your job disappears.
“Sitting in jail,” Lewis says, “You’re definitely going to lose everything.”