Should we put criminals under surveillance instead of in prison?S

We've reached a point in our technological development where it might be possible to imprison people without jails — just by using surveillance technology. And that's exactly what a group of researchers at DeLoitte hope to do.

Over at Popular Mechanics, Eric Sofge has a fascinating article about a proposal that risk management corporation DeLoitte presented last week at the South by Southwest Interactive conference. The idea is to use everything from mobile tracking devices to remote breathalizer tests to keep convicts in line, while cutting down on the costs of maintaining jails. Sofge writes:

In exchange for an early release from prison, Frank is living every privacy advocate's worst nightmare. His precise location is tracked and recorded at all times, the GPS transmitter on his wrist broadcasting every morning commute and lunch hour errand and visit with friends back to a map on his case manager's laptop. If Frank's blip deviates from his designated, geo-fenced portion of the map, the case manager gets an alert. If Frank's blip isn't home before curfew, another alert goes out. And if Frank is ordered by his case manager to check his own approximate blood alcohol content, using the BreathalEyes app on his government-provided smartphone (the app looks for the jagged, bouncing movement of a user's eyes, a tell-tale sign of inebriation), Frank listens. These are the terms of leaving prison early—you get to leave, but prison gets to follow.

Of course, Frank Williamson isn't real, and neither is his free-range detention. Both were part of a proposal presented at a SXSW Interactive panel this past Saturday, as a novel solution to the overpopulation crisis facing prisons in the United States. The average federal facility is at 137% capacity, and climbing, as the in-flow of new prisoners continues to outpace the rate of release.

If pity for the imprisoned isn't forthcoming, consider the amount of cash currently spent on incarceration. "To put an individual in prisons today costs $70 to $90 a day per person," said Alan Holden, one of two senior consultants at the panel from professional services firm DeLoitte, whose public scctor-minded thinktank produced the proposal. "Even the most expensive electronic monitoring solution on the market is $20 per day. You could double that cost, and still save 50 percent," Holden said.

DeLoitte's proposal isn't science fiction, either. It's based on actual pilot programs at prisons around the United States. Read more at Popular Mechanics.