On Feb. 18, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced his legislative proposals meant to reduce the state’s incarceration rates. He may want to contact Fort Smith businessman Kris Keyton.
Keyton, president of Fort Smith-based E-cell, recently earned a patent on an iTunes app, House Arrest, where probationary offenders can be tracked with an iPhone 5S instead of an ankle bracelet.
Like a bracelet, the app not only can track the offender’s whereabouts but also predict behavior. For example, an offender who is gone from home for increasingly longer periods or late on check-ins multiple times may need an intervention to avoid another offense. An offender traveling to the same house again and again may be buying drugs at that location.
“Tracking all the analytical data gives us a greater chance of true rehabilitation than just the revolving doors of our prisons,” he said.
The big difference with House Arrest is it enables two-way communication. Offenders receive computer-generated check-in alert at random intervals 8-10 times a day. The app recognizes the offender by his fingerprint and through facial recognition technology. Offenders then record a video response. If warranted, the probation officer or the monitoring center then can do a FaceTime video call.
Those video communications help authorities watch behavior for signs of trouble. “With the phone, you know where they are, and you’re able to call them, you’re able to talk to them, you’re able to get feedback from them, and especially it appears the juveniles are benefiting from that the most,” Keyton said.
The app soon will record offenders performing breath-based alcohol testing using a bluetooth-enabled device that syncs with the phone. Drug tests will be available in the future, Keyton said.
Keyton said he has been running a pilot test involving about 30 adults in Sebastian County since the middle of January, and so far adults are responding to check-in requests immediately because they don’t want to go to jail.
“If they don’t get their test, they’re calling us going, ‘Hey, I think I should get more tests,’” he said.
He’s also running a pilot test with juveniles on probation in the Helena-West Helena area. Jarvis Smith, chief probation officer for juveniles in Phillips, Lee and Monroe Counties, said that, “The process is phenomenal, in a word.”
Smith said juvenile justice is aimed at rehabilitation, not punishment, and House Arrest enables probation officers to monitor offenders in a way that doesn’t criminalize them or institutionalize them. Ankle bracelets, he said, are large and protruding and give offenders “street credit.” He said the young people like their phones and actually have fun responding to the prompts.
“What happens is the juvenile takes a different sort of perspective on the house arrest, and it gives you an opportunity to build a relationship with your client … maybe even quicker than you normally would because now you are connecting with this person two or three times a day,” he said.
Authorities now use the ankle bracelet as a disciplinary measure. Youths who fail to comply lose their phones.
Keyton has spent most of his adult career in the adult incarceration business. His family has owned Exit Bail Bond Company since 1980. He entered the ankle bracelet business in 1995 using first radio frequency and then GPS technology. The idea for House Arrest came to him in 2008, and he started working on the app in about 2013.
“When the iPhone first came out, and I saw the GPS tracking, and I saw how the applications worked, I thought, ‘Well, we could track offenders with this,’” he said.
The iPhones are paid for by the offenders. As with ankle bracelets, it’s up to them to make sure the phones are charged. If they don’t, it’s a violation.
Another advantage to the House Arrest app is it removes some of the stigma associated with being on probation. Instead of wearing an ankle bracelet, offenders are merely carrying a phone.
“We’re taking the scarlet letter out of the corrections,” Keyton said.
Keyton said the House Arrest app increases the chances that offenders will comply with the terms of their probation because it’s more obvious to them that they are being watched.
“With the iPhone, they know that we can see them because we’re talking to them, and they’re going to comply,” he said.