After a deadly gun attack in Darwin, the person arrested recently wore an electronic monitoring bracelet, and was on parole! This led to adverse public reaction following all high-profile crimes. How could it happen? People speculate that criminal justice agencies involved were lax as the offender was being monitored. While accusations serve cathartic functions, questions about our expectations prior to assuming failures, must be raised. We must understand what electronic monitoring achieves, how it works, its limitations and capabilities.
Electronic monitoring in correction parlance means tagging a person with a GPS-enabled ankle bracelet for surveillance. Each state and territory In Australia, guided by respective legislative frameworks, uses electronic monitoring differently with practices varying between jurisdictions. In some places, high-risk recidivists or repeat offenders are targeted. In others, specific offences are the focus like indecent offences against children. Application of electronic monitoring differs between offenders, as supervising agencies monitor on personal basis. A police department may use electronic monitoring to ensure that domestic violence perpetrators do not threaten victims prior to the trial.
Every electronically-monitored offender updates a computer database with instructions to be followed. Each agency and jurisdiction has its own database, and an offender’s appearance depends on who supervises electronic monitoring. The database maybe monitored by enforcement authorities, or outsourced to private providers and overseas companies. Data passes from a GPS device to the monitoring agency in real time, but delays occur in processing information or passing onto police or corrective services. When an offender breaches rules, a computer alert is generated depending on legislative factors and case-priorities influencing responses. The database includes action initiation for specific breaches by each offender. Sometimes, a device alarm may be triggered or the police notified immediately. For ordinary breaches and routine cases, the monitoring agency notifies the offender’s supervisor, to determine action initiation with a lag of many days. Should a low-risk offender miss home curfew on a Friday night, notification of this breach reaches the parole officer only by Monday morning.
The pros and cons of tagging
Both benefits and disadvantages exist for electronic monitoring of offenders. It effectively renders offenders accountable, enhances community safety, protects victims, and prevents crimes with cost-savings as offenders are safely monitored in the community instead of imprisonment with early possible release from prison. But offenders can tamper with their devices, and GPS dead zones exist in a vast country like Australia. Human errors can occur in the systems, such as negligence, improper monitoring or poor decision-making after alerts. But research evidence shows that electronic monitoring is an effective tool for discouraging recidivism. But it remains a tool. More effective practices for supervising offenders living in the community, include those identifying and reducing a person’s proclivity for criminal behaviour.
Electronic monitoring is effective when effective supervision reduces opportunities for committing crimes. Such supervision redraws their daily routines to avoid risky settings, replaced by positive influences. Instead of many negatives for offenders, effective probation and parole strategies assist offenders to be productive. Correctional authorities should provide rehabilitative interventions to change a person’s criminal behaviour. Offenders can develop skills for good decision-making using cognitive-behavioural techniques. But electronic monitoring cannot stop lack of empathy, impulsive decisions, or other criminal traits. A technological aid cannot substitute for proper treatment.