Safety of electronic monitoring questioned

WGN Investigates

CHICAGO — The use of electronic monitoring is on the rise in Illinois as some judicial and law enforcement leaders look to ease the overcrowding of jails and prisons. But how safe is the program?

In the first of our two-part series, WGN Investigates looks at one man, accused of multiple crimes, including harassment, who made a mockery of the system on social media.

“I feel like there is no telling what he will do or what he’s capable of doing,” Tiffany Gravitt, one of the man’s victims, said.

Christopher Weltsch, 37, was arrested numerous times over a two-week span in June 2018. He was eventually sentenced to four years in prison on charges of residential burglary and violating an order of protection. Then the pandemic hit.

Weltsch was released from the Illinois Department of Corrections and placed on electronic monitoring. He was supposed to remain on the program for four years. But he didn’t last anywhere near that long.

In June, he removed his ankle monitor and threw it in the woods, posting a video on social media for everyone to see.

He was later re-arrested but the women he was accused of harassing shared their stories with WGN Investigates, confessing how frightened they felt.

“Once he cut it off it was game over, I had no protection whatsoever,” one woman said.  

It’s not clear how often people on IDOC’s electronic monitoring program cut off their bracelets. The agency declined WGN’s request for information, though a spokeswoman said no one from the program is currently listed as AWOL.

The Cook County Sheriff’s office runs a separate electronic monitoring program. A spokesman said 456 people, or nearly 15 percent of the people on EM are missing.

“I would say about half of them are within a window of six months,” Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said. “And then there’s about 100 people who have been missing for over a decade.”

Patrice James with the Shriver Center on Poverty Law is an expert on electronic monitoring and questions its widespread use.

“There is an idea or a sense that electronic monitors keep people safe, but the data and the research show that electronic monitoring does not aid rehabilitation and has minimal effect on recidivism,” she said.

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