Why are so many criminals on house arrest free to roam? 

A Blind Eye

In 2011, Brandon Bannister was under house arrest when he raped a Moncks Corner woman. A judge ordered Bannister, who had been charged with indecent exposure, to wear a GPS monitor on his leg as part of the terms of his bond. But, according to Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, no one noticed Bannister wandering around town in the weeks before the rape.

Eventually, Bannister was arrested, but not because he was wearing a monitor at the time of the sexual assault. He had left behind a card linked to his name. Last month, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

One of the problems with South Carolina's criminal justice system is that it trusts bondsmen to monitor the criminals they bail out and to capture them when they abscond. Many times the bondsmen don't. However, not every state follows this same misguided policy.

In Charlotte, N.C., a team of police officers monitors criminals on GPS bracelets around the clock. If someone wanders even a few thousand feet from where he's supposed to be, alarms go off and officers are dispatched immediately. But not here in the Palmetto State. In South Carolina there are no laws governing how electronic monitoring works and there are no set procedures bondsmen have to follow. Worse yet, when a defendant fails to appear in court, the police don't even have the authority to go after them.

"Bondsmen are the only ones who can pick them up," Wilson says. "If [the police] learn the guy has absconded, they have to get a court order before they can go get him. That can take days to up to a week, and it gives [suspects] a nice head start."

That assumes the bondsman even informs local law enforcement officials that a defendant has violated the terms of his or her house arrest or that he has disappeared entirely. Some don't.

Part of the problem appears to be the fact that defendants pay bail bondsmen for the privilege of being monitored. If a defendant is caught violating the terms of his house arrest and is returned to jail, the bondsman loses money.

Because this system is so flawed, a South Carolina judge put an end to GPS monitoring in 2006 after a suspect sexually assaulted a woman while wearing the device. However, the court system eventually decided to allow GPS again. But the same problems still existed. According to a 2012 Post and Courier report, murder suspect Donyell Wright was spotted on the streets of Charleston by his victim's family, but when prosecutors tried to get the records of his movements, the monitoring company apparently declined to turn them over. Where he went while he was out, nobody knows.

In Charlotte and other jurisdictions that use GPS monitoring, the police department can tell you exactly who they are monitoring. Here? Wilson says the local criminal justice system has no idea who or how many people are being monitored. In fact, the situation is such a disaster that a judge recently put a moratorium on electronic monitoring — for the second time in seven years. So for now, the area's most dangerous criminals aren't being monitored at all when they bond out. Wilson says she pushed for the moratorium so victims wouldn't develop a false sense of security and would take measures to protect themselves.

After years of trying to fix the situation, Wilson finally thought she'd found the answer. The S.C. Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services had agreed to start a real electronic monitoring program, but they backed out a few weeks ago.

It's simply inexcusable that while Wilson continues to plead for help, state legislators continue to ignore the situation and law enforcement agencies twiddle their thumbs. Surely, there has to be at least one local or state law enforcement agency that will step up and bring us into the 21st century.


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