Electronic years in other parts of the justice

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Electronic monitoring, although it being a rather new
concept, is already widely regarded as a suitable alternative to prison
sentences. It has known a serious growth over the past several years and it is
believed that this evolution will continue. Electronic monitoring -or EM in
short- is part of the community sanctionsU1 . Electronic monitoring consists of technological
measures to unsure the offender’s location. This way, the convicted can be
denied access to certain places or be demanded to stay at home. It is a rather
new way of keeping the offender in the community, hence the name community
sanction, while keeping the public safe and monitoring the individual, as a
prison sentence would. The hypothesis ‘Electronic monitoring is an innovative and
effective addition to the portfolio of community sanctions’ will be analysed by
comparing findings from Belgium and the USA, as well as some other
international sources. A brief history of the sanction is necessary to find out
if it can be considered ‘innovative’. Later on, scientific research will be
used to determine its effectiveness in the broadest sense of the word. All
aspects of its effects will be analysed.

A short history of
this specific form of community sanctions is very useful to fully understand
its use in the field. EM was first introduced in the ’90s in the USA to
counteract the growing prison population (Padgett, Bales & Blomberg, 2006,
p. 64) following two decades of experimenting with alternative sanctions. It
wasn’t until the year 2000 that Belgium started its first EM projects to reduce
its own prison overpopulation issues (Beyen & Roosen, 2015, p. 2). It was
only very recently, in 2016, that EM became a full alternative to the prison
sentence in Belgium, although it was already being used for several years in
other parts of the justice system as a reintegrative measure after a prison
sentence for example. While its first goal was to prevent overpopulation in prisons
(Beyen & Roosen, 2015, p. 2; Padgett et al, 2006, p. 62), it became clear
that it was a much cheaper alternative in both the USA (Bales, Mann, Blomberg, Gaes, Barrick, Dhungana &
McManus, 2010, p. 26) and Belgium (Beyen & Roosen, 2015, p. 4).

To say that EM is aU2 n innovative
addition to the community sanctions might be a bit of a far stretch. An
innovation is an introduction of something new (Merriam-Webster). Although EM
is a rather new addition to the community sanctions, calling it innovative now
might be an overstatement. It has been experimented with and used for at least
several decades (Padgett, Bales & Blomberg, 2006, p. 64). Nevertheless, we
can notice a continuous innovation within the concept of EM itself. These
innovations constantly improve the technology and the methods used to keep the
system up to date and make it more accurate and effective (Cotter & De
Lint, 2008, p.80). Important breakthroughs include the transition from EM in
the form of radio frequency, to the use of GPS for active tracking. The fact
that the system is constantly updated means that, even though the concept has
been around for a while, the actual use of electronic monitoring is constantly
improving. If you consider a broader meaning of innovation, this process of
constant renewal can be considered innovative.

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To find out if EM is
also an effective measure we will need to dig a little deeper. To decide if
something is effective it is essential find out what the desired effect
is.  In Belgium, the goal and use of
electronic monitoring has changed throughout the years. At first it was merely
used as an alternative way of remand custody U3 (Beyen & Roosen,
2015, p. 3).  A few years later, in 1996,
it was considered to be a useful alternative to a prison sanction. Two decades
later, in 2016, it became a standalone sanctionU4 . Beyens and Roosen
(2015) distinguish two types of goals: penological goals and systemic goals. The
penological goals focus on avoiding the harm generally associated with prison
sentences as well as the reintegration process. The systemic goals focus on how
electronic monitoring is an improvement to the criminal justice system. EM
should be a cheaper alternative to the prison sentence while getting the same
or better results in preventing recidivism (Beyen & Roosen, 2015, p. 26).

The first
penological goal of EM is to avoid prison harm. While it seems obvious that prison
harmU5  couldn’t be a
problem with EM as there is no physical imprisonment, some prison related aspects
will still be present. Especially family harm is a common problem with EM (Bales, Mann, Blomberg, Gaes, Barrick, Dhungana &
McManus, 2010).  Because the person under EM
must remain in the house in a lot of cases, it can become very demanding on the
relationship between the inhabitants. EM is often seen as a burden on the
family, in the form of stress and disputes (Beyen & Roosen, 2015, p. 31). The
same research shows that the false sense of freedom accompanying EM might be
unsettling for some and even create its own problems. EM also often results in
employment issues, which might put even more financial and psychological stress
on the family. It is very important to evaluate these problems in relation to
prison harm. Although EM might cause family harm, it’s still much less
stressful and harmful for a family to have their relative at home than imprisoned.
In some cases, the convicted can keep practicing his/her job and function
normally in the household. This effectively limits the burden on the family.

The second
penological goal is to facilitate a better reintegration process. This one,
same as prison harm, is a relative goal that greatly depends on the person
himself. It’s a concept that is very hard to measure. The fact that the
prosecuted is not completely secluded from his community might ease the
reintegration process. In most countries, such as The Netherlands, EM is most
often used as a reintegrative measure to bridge the time in prison towards the actual
freedom (Boone, van der Kooij & Rap, 2016, p.30). The success of EM for
facilitating reintegration does not only depend on the person’s motivation, but
also on the community’s reaction. If the members of the community think in a
stigmatising way, where both the criminal act and the person are being
repelled, the subject might find it very difficult to reintegrate, whether he
is on EM or not. On the other hand, in a more reintegrative thinking
environment where, although the criminal act is looked down upon, the person
himself is not condemned, the subject will find it much easier to be reaccepted
in the community (Braithwaite & Makkai, 1994). We can conclude that the
role of EM in aiding reintegration depends more on the community itself than on
the measure as such. The fact that the subject isn’t taken out of his context
will certainly contribute to the reintegration compared to other sanctions like
a prison sentence. In a stable environment, with a job and in a functional family
environment, EM can eliminate all forms of harm if issued in relation to the
right person and create a safe and easy reintegration. It might even eliminate
the need for reintegration because the offender was never excluded from the
community to begin with.

The first systemic
goal of EM is to lower the overall cost. EM is considered to be a cheap
alternative to a prison sentence. This has been proven time and time again. In
Belgium, the daily cost of a subject who is being monitored is 25 euro. If we
compare this to the daily cost of a prisoner, which is somewhere between 130
and 200 euro a day, we can safely say that EM is the more cost-efficient
sanction (Beyen & Roosen, 2015, p. 27). The cost of a person being monitored
in the United States is even lower, coming in at about 8 US dollars per day
(Bales et al., 2006). Keeping a convicted man in prison is also less
financially demanding in the USA, totalling at around 55 dollar a day. In both
countries, EM is up to 5 times cheaper than a prison sentence. Looking at these
numbers, it is safe to say that purely mathematical, EM is cheaper than a
prison sentence.

A second systemic
goal of electronic monitoring is reducing the prison population. This was the
main goal of introducing EM in Belgium. It regrettably didn’t achieve the
desired effect. The overpopulation problem in Belgian prisons is still very
much present. Both the prison population and the number of people who are being
electronically monitored have gone up for the last decades, with only the first
signs of decline in prison population in the last few years (Beyens &
Roosen, 2016, p.26). This means that the overall cost of the criminal justice
system has gone up. On the other hand, Bales et al. (1994) found out that the
monitoring officers believed that 75% of their cases would have gone to prison
if EM wasn’t available. Given this, EM must have effectively slowed down the
imprisonment rate and kept the cost relatively down. Taking this into
consideration, EM has been a cost saving measure and is rightfully used as a
cheaper alternative to the prison sentence.

A third but very
important systemic goal of EM is reducing recidivism. Reducing recidivism is a
key goal for every sort of sentence or sanction. A lot of countries that use EM
don’t really monitor how good the system works when it comes to trying to lower
recidivism rates. Decent quantitative research on the topic is also rather scarce.
Bales et al (2010) conducted a very comprehensive research on this. Some of
their findings have proven to be very interesting. They found that the chances
of reoffending after EM are reduced by 31% compared to the previous forms of
community sanctions. A second important observation was that EM seems to be
less effective on violent offenders when it comes to reducing recidivism. The
figures of other types of offenders, like sex or drug offenders, showed much
better results. Other parameters, such as age, didn’t seem to influence the
success rate. In the case of child sex offenders, EM proves to be highly
effective, as it effectively limits the offender’s ability to have physical
contact with minors (Bales et al., 2010, p. XI). Despite this scientific
finding, (child) sex
offenders are not eligible for EM in Belgium. U6 

In Belgium, the rate
of recidivism of offenders who were under EM as a main sanction is not being
monitored. However, it is known that prisoners who were released after EM have
lower rates of recidivism then those who were released without this program U7 (Beyens &
Roosen, 2016). This gives an indication of its success as a standalone
sanction. To raise their chances of success, a lot of countries will also use
strict conditions before a person can be given an EM sanction. Some of these
conditions include having a stable day schedule, at least 26 hours a week of
meaningful activities and an available house to live in (Boone et al., 2016;
Beyens & Roosen, 2016). These conditions have a positive effect on lowering
the chance of reoffending. It does however create room for discrimination, as there
is a risk of turning EM into some sort of elitist sanction.

I can conclude that the hypothesis ‘Electronic
monitoring is an innovative and effective addition to the portfolio of
community sanctions’ depends on a lot of different factors. The answer to the
question if the addition is innovative, is that ‘it can be’. It has some proven
success and in some ways, it does a better job than other community sanctions. However,
it still needs a lot of research in order to say that it’s a great U8 and new improvement over the other community
sanctions. The fact that the technology involved constantly improves does keep
the process innovative. The effectiveness, as said before, could be researched
and monitored much better. We can say that EM is in fact a cost-effective
sanction and it greatly reduces the chances of both detention and family harm,
although the system still has some inherent problems. The question if EM works
to ease the reintegration process greatly depends on the context of the offender
and his environment. Its effectiveness in reducing recidivism is mainly
researched when EM was used as a post-prison measure to improve the
reintegration process. There is much less evidence that EM is as effective when
used as a standalone community sanction, as is the case in Belgium. I would
like to be able to confidently say that electronic monitoring is an innovative
and effective addition to the portfolio of community sanctions, but I think it
is too early in the life of EM to make such a bold statement. However, the system
has shown a lot of positive developments throughout the years and has some
added advantages over other community sanctions. Further developments and
research in the next few decades might make this hypothesis an easy win. U9 

Categories: United States


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