Saturday, May 1, 2010
Ankle bracelet monitoring could be effective, but we need more resources
Manitoba would have better success at monitoring high-risk car thieves wearing GPS-equipped electronic ankle bracelets if it put more resources into the program, Manitoba's Progressive Conservatives say.
Tory justice critic Kelvin Goertzen said the experience in the United States shows electronic monitoring works in reducing re-offence rates for all levels of offenders across all age groups.
He cited a recent study done by the Center for Criminology and Public Policy Research at Florida State University, which examined the 22-year history of electronic monitoring in Florida.
It found electronic monitoring reduces the likelihood of an inmate failing to follow a community supervision court order. The reduction in the risk of failure is about 31 per cent, relative to offenders placed on other forms of community supervision, the study found.
It also said approximately one in three offenders under electronic monitoring would have served time in jail if not for the electronic surveillance option available to the courts. Given that it costs six times more to jail an offender in a Florida state prison than to put them on electronic monitoring, the study found the bracelets to be a cost-effective way of dealing with many offenders. It recommended expanding the program.
Florida has used different forms of electronic monitoring for more than 25 years. Last year, it had 2,933 offenders on GPS electronic monitoring.
By comparison, Manitoba has up to 20 young offenders under electronic monitoring at any given time.
Goertzen said the success of electronic monitoring depends on having the police resources available to respond quickly to breaches. Offenders who remove or tamper with the anklets must also face stiffer penalties.
The province's electronic bracelet monitoring program has been under fire after the Free Press reported a probation officer allowed a high-risk young offender to return to the community without wearing a court-ordered electronic ankle bracelet.
Attorney General Andrew Swan recently released figures that indicate the benefit of electronic monitoring is mixed at best. Since April 2008, 29 of the 49 high-risk young offenders fitted with the monitors removed them before the completion of their terms. Two of the teens removed their devices four times. Swan said the NDP has recruited a University of Manitoba researcher to review the program which will cost taxpayers $850,000 over three years.
Manitoba's program is similar to one run in Nova Scotia, which has used electronic monitoring on adult and young offenders since 2006. Last year, the Nova Scotia Department of Justice said electronic monitoring has, "shown to be an effective tool to assist in the monitoring of appropriate high-risk youth on house arrest."
I agree that more resources need to be allocated to this program, because ankle bracelets can be effective and are an alternative to sending youths to prison. However, I do think discretion must be given with tampering, etc. If this happens, youths should not automatically be sent to prison but maybe to a more intensive community sanction, such as intensive probation or a residential youth group home. Prison should not be over-relied upon, because it will only cause more overcrowding.