Can you cut off an electronic monitoring bracelet?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Sept. 27 2005 5:46 PM

Can I Cut Off My Electronic Monitoring Bracelet?

You bet I can!

Last Friday, Puerto Rican nationalist leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios died after a shootout with FBI agents. In 1990, while awaiting trial for stealing millions from an armored-truck company, Ojeda snipped off his electronic monitoring bracelet and went on the lam. How easy is it to cut off one of those bracelets?

All you need is a pair of scissors. Electronic monitoring bracelets aren't designed to stay on at all costs. A device that can't be removed without special tools would pose a serious health risk to its wearer. A bracelet might get caught in heavy machinery, for example, or paramedics might need to remove it to provide emergency medical care. Most of the monitoring bracelets on the market can be easily cut in two, or even ripped off if enough pressure is applied. The SCRAM bracelet—that's Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring System—comes with a labeled line that tells you where to cut in case of emergency.

Daniel Engber Daniel Engber

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate

Advertisement

If you slice through your bracelet, you'll probably set off an alarm. A radio transmitter embedded in the bracelet is programmed to send a distress signal as soon as it's tampered with. Bracelet manufacturers won't discuss the specifics of tamper-proofing, but many pieces of monitoring jewelry use a wire that runs the length of the band. Cutting the wire breaks a circuit and sends an alert to the authorities. Some bracelets also use internal light sensors to catch anyone who manages to pry open the transmitter's housing.

Anyone can cut off a bracelet and go into hiding, but it's very difficult to take one off and put it back on later. Parole officers or other supervisors are supposed to examine the bracelets on a regular basis. If they see any signs of tampering—like cut marks or twisted plastic—the offender is considered to have violated the terms of the monitoring program. The fact that most bracelets are worn on the ankle makes them very difficult to remove intact. (Someone wearing a device on his wrist might be able to slide it over a greased-up hand.)

When a criminal has served his time, removing the bracelet is as simple as cutting it off. Just before Martha Stewart was allowed to remove her monitoring bracelet, New York's chief federal probation officer said that former prisoners were allowed to chop off their anklets at 12:01 a.m. on the day of their release. The actor Robert Blake wasted no time in removing a monitoring bracelet at the close of his murder trial. He asked the crowd outside the courthouse for a cutting implement moments after the verdict.

Explainer thanks Steve Chapin of Pro Tech, Joe Russo of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center, and Tom Wharton of iSECUREtrac.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The First Case of Ebola in America Has Been Diagnosed in Dallas

Why Indians in America Are Mad for India’s New Prime Minister

Damned Spot

Now Stare. Don’t Stop.

The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 5:19 PM Social Outcasts Republican candidates are retreating from debates on abortion, gay marriage, and contraception.
  Business
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
  Life
Education
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 4:45 PM Steven Soderbergh Is Doing Some Next-Level Work on The Knick
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 5:47 PM California Gov. Vetoes Bill Requiring Warrant for Police Surveillance Drones
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.