Fortunately, that system is changing. The Missouri Supreme Court last yearissued new rules that require judges to consider non-monetary conditions of pretrial release and to treat bail as a last resort. In some cases, that has meant ankle monitors to ensure that defendants don’t leave the jurisdiction pending trial. It’s a cumbersome and expensive system that makes it difficult for defendants to, say, sit down for a job interview.

Missouri is pursuing a statewide electronic monitoring program that would replace bail or ankle monitors in many instances. Cellphone apps provided by private vendors can track the defendant’s movements and use facial-recognition and other technology to verify that the person carrying the phone is the defendant when he or she checks in with court officials using the phone’s map and camera.

The state program has a built-in incentive to get counties to implement it, moving participants to the top of the list for reimbursements owed by the state to counties for incarceration costs. So the decision by St. Louis County Executive Sam Page to get in front of this idea and launch a six-month pilot program — provided cost-free through a private vendor — makes fiscal as well as fairness sense.

Any time new tracking technology is employed by public offices, especially with the involvement of private vendors, caution and transparency are called for. But properly implemented, these kinds of innovations can make the necessity of tracking pretrial defendants less intrusive and more efficient — and make the bail conundrum largely a thing of the past.