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Spiderman wore the first electronic bracelet.

A sharp-eyed New Mexico judge noticed it on Spiderman's wrist in a 1979 comic strip in the Albuquerque Journal. Evil Kingpin slapped the bracelet on his nemesis so he could track the do-gooder with a radar. Only Kingpin had the key to unlock the cuff.Hmmm. Good idea, thought Jack Love, who at the time was a judge with the New Mexico District Court. What if you could do that with prisoners to prevent them from escaping or preying on other inmates?

He sent a letter to officials at the New Mexico Department of Corrections, pitching his comic-inspired idea. They liked it. But several months later a major riot broke out at the New Mexico Penitentiary in which 31 inmates were killed, and the project got shelved.

Love thought of it again in 1982 when he got frustrated about overcrowding at a detention center - there was a 100-day wait to get in the center.

"I decided I would try to get someone to do the electronic bracelet," Love said.

He approached IBM and Honeywell, but neither company was interested. Michael Goss, a salesman at Honeywell thought it was a good idea, though. He quit his job and formed his own company to make the devices.

In April 1983, Love made history when he sentenced the first criminal to house arrest with a bracelet devised by Goss' company, which is now known as BI Inc. and is the largest manufacturer of electronic monitoring devices in the United States.

Among those who've donned electronic bracelets are Dr. Jack Kevorkian, Saudi businessman Adnan Khashoggi, UC Irvinefertility doctor Sergio C. Stone and an 11-year-old California girl accused of spiking a teacher's drink with rat poison.

And this fall some Salt Lake County Jail prisoners will, too.

The county received a $79,000 federal grant from the state to start the electronic monitoring program. It will use the money to buy or lease 37 bracelets.

Thirty bracelets will be used for nonviolent, low-risk offenders - drug users, petty thieves and drunken drivers, for instance - and seven for perpetrators of domestic violence.

"All of these folks would have to be people sentenced to no more than 45 days in jail," said Paul Cunningham, jail division com-man-der.

Consider the devices digital spies. They place lawbreakers under house arrest and ensure the offenders stay grounded. And that, the county says, will free beds at the overcrowded jail for more dangerous criminals.

Use of the bracelets will let offenders continue to work, go to school or attend treatment programs and care for families without tying up jail space and manpower. The bracelets should also save taxpayer dollars, since they cost about 10 percent to 20 percent less per offender than space in a jail cell.

The two types of electronic monitors the county is considering work basically the same way.

A nonviolent offender is given an ankle bracelet equipped with a transmitter to wear 24 hours a day. The waterproof bracelet looks like a bulky sports watch.

A receiver is attached to the offender's home telephone. The receiver continuously picks up radio signals sent out by the ankle bracelet from as far away as 150-200 feet.

The receiver makes about a dozen random calls each day to a central computer over the telephone line and sends in data picked up from the transmitter.

The computer compares the data to a profile set up for the offender, which shows work schedules, etc. The computer issues an alert if unauthorized gaps in data transmissions are detected.

The JurisMonitor system used in domestic violence cases operates in reverse. The offender is given an ankle bracelet with a transmitter. Receivers are hooked up to both the offender's and victim's home telephones.

The receiver in the offender's home works just like that used for nonviolent offenders.

But if the perpetrator comes within a certain distance of the victim's home, the receiver sounds an audible alarm and automatically calls the monitoring center. Personnel there immediately contact local police dispatchers.

Simultaneously, a microphone in the victim's receiver turns on and picks up sounds within the victim's home. The sounds are transmitted through the receiver to the monitoring center, where they are recorded.

Victims are instructed to get as close to the receiver as possible when an alarm goes off. Sometimes victims are given a pager-like device that can activate the receiver from a distance of up to 1,000 feet.

The monitoring centers can be operated by the local law enforcement agency, a private business or by the company supplying the electronic bracelets.

Electronic monitoring isn't infallible. The batteries in transmitters can fail, and receivers sometimes pick up interference from other transmitting devices, such as police scanners, that emit radio frequencies. Newer systems have battery check features as well as tampering and density sensors - which indicate if a bracelet has been removed from a leg.

But the bottom line is that while an electronic monitor will indicate a person's presence or absence in a certain location, it won't stop a crime.

A gang that attacked and killed a Chicago fireman in 1991 included a convict wearing an ankle bracelet. Last year, a Connecticut man wearing an ankle bracelet shot two people in the head as he robbed a jewelry store; he committed the crime during work hours, when he was normally away from the tracking system.

Despite a dozen or so such incidents since electronic bracelets debuted in 1983, many government and law enforcement agencies see electronic monitoring as a workable way to conserve jail space and tax funds.

In Utah, Youth Corrections has used the devices. So has Electronic Surveillance Programs, a private company that since 1987 has provided house arrest services ordered by Utah courts and Adult Probation and Parole.

It added domestic violence monitoring in May 1995 when a Utah law took effect requiring surveillance of individuals who violate protective orders.

So far the company has worked with about 50 individuals covered by a protective order.

On any given day, 80 to 100 people serving sentences that vary from one day to three years, are enrolled in monitoring programs administered by Electronic Surveillance Programs, said Steve Alley, general manager.

While the length of the sentence is not a critical factor, ability to pay is. Electronic Surveillance Programs charges the cost of monitoring equipment to offenders, who pay a one-time $30 administrative fee and $9.50 per day, said Dave Johnson, program manager.

People who balk at the cost are given the alternative of spending time in jail, Johnson said.


Additional Information

Electronic Home arrest

Radio transmitter attached to detainee's ankle emits encoded signal to receiver/modem in detainee's home

If detainee travels more than 150-200 feet from the receiver, authorities are notified. It also notifies the authorities of any tampering with the system.

Transmitter range: 150-200 ft.

Monitoring center receives periodic reports from the receiver. It compares them with detainee's curfew.