GPS location and equipment determining whether offenders go to jail

Almost 6,000 people are serving sentences under electronic surveillance. Photo / Michael Craig

By Soumya Bhamidipati from RNZ

Some offenders have to go to jail because they don’t live in an area where there is a signal good enough for electronic monitoring.

Corrections couldn’t say how often this happens, but recently signed a $ 180 million contract for new equipment, which it says will improve coverage so fewer people are disadvantaged.

Currently, approximately 5,800 people are serving community sentences or orders under electronic surveillance, including 1,600 people on electronic surveillance bail.

Human rights lawyer Michael Bott has said he has had clients who cannot be tracked in this way because of where they live.

“There are cases, for example, with people that I have had as clients in rural areas or in extreme parts of the east coast where they cannot serve their sentence among their whānau – which is also a protection factor – simply because there is a lack of signal strength. “

Corrections said the decision was not always about signal coverage. The victim may live nearby, there may be no access to rehabilitation programs, or no one wants the person to stay with them.

Australian researcher Dr Marietta Martinovic has studied electronic surveillance and said New Zealand’s use of it is the highest in the Western world.

Martinovic, who also worked as a community correctional officer, said it was a better option than jail.

She said if the GPS equipment couldn’t reach certain areas, the radio signals should be able to cover them.

“If one doesn’t work, the other picks up,” Martinovic said.

“I think it’s a problem if people are denied to be released into the community on the basis of technology just because they don’t live in an area that has access to the technology.”

Martinovic is hopeful that the new correctional services equipment, which uses both types of signals, will resolve some of these issues, but the ministry could not say whether that meant more people would be monitored instead of going to jail.

A 2017 report by rights organization JustSpeak found that there was a wide range of housing unsuitable for electronic bonding, including apartments, caravans and tents.

President Jordan Anderson said not much has changed in the past four years.

However, she said the millions spent on electronic monitoring would be better spent on rehabilitation and reintegration programs.

“There are huge investments in this technology for surveillance and if we could move some of that money and reinvest it at the other end, we would be able to fund community support services,” Anderson said.

“Communities are the people in the best position to know how to provide for their own.

The Parole Board said it was working with corrections to understand the new technology and was not yet sure whether more people would be eligible for electronic supervised parole.

-RNZ

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