Manual Electronically Monitored Punishment: International and Critical Perspectives

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In Austria, EM is provided for prisoners during their last stage of imprisonment, who can serve their sentence in house arrest.


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In Finland, EM, as a judicial sanction, is only provided if fines and community service seem to be inappropriate; in other words, EM is the very last resort before imprisonment. Therefore, prison capacities are saved in these cases. However, Finland also has some doubtful practices that can be judged as a net-widening strategy. Since the past few years, prisoners in open prison facilities wear electronic devices when they go out for work or leisure time activities in order to unburden staff members from controlling their activities.

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This is a clear additional and, in most cases, probably unnecessary social control measure. Also, in Sweden, the legislator has emphasized that EM should only replace unconditional prison sentences and no other alternatives. Insofar one could think of EM as contributing to the recent decline of the prison population.

The Swedish policy can only be understood in terms of the long tradition of imposing short-term unconditional prison sentences for relatively minor crimes, such as drunk driving.

In Germany, the legislator — already in and by a major law reform — has replaced short-term prison sentences with fines. EM does therefore not play an important role in Germany. In Sweden, changes have taken place in sentencing by expanding fines; therefore, the importance of EM is little. One other critical question relates to the target groups of EM. In all other countries, EM is used for middle-range crimes and low-risk offenders. To some extent, English probation services have contributed to this development by categorically refusing to take part in any EM-based sanctions see Nellis The core question of taking the principle of proportionality seriously reveals very different approaches in Europe and often within the crime policy of a single given country.

In Belgium, for example, EM is used in different forms. In the case of longer prison sentences of more than 3 years, EM can be used the prepare release by serving the sentence at home for up to 6 months before following a regular parole release, thus replacing a definite prison term with EM. Probation services are involved in these cases, and EM supports their work. On the other hand, a new policy came into effect just recently that allows a stand-alone EM supervision of offenders sentenced with up to one year of imprisonment without any support from the probation services and without any regulation based on which other community services should or could be prioritized.

In Denmark, the back-door-strategy to serve the last 6 months of a prison sentence is a reductionist measure, whereas EM, as an immediate community sanction, is probably more often used more as an alternative to other community sanctions than to imprisonment. France uses a lot of different EM options; again, only a back-door-strategy of an earlier release combined with EM has a potentially reductionist effect.

Although positive numbers are increasing in this case, the prison system suffers from one of the highest overcrowding rates in Europe. Closely related to the question of whether EM really contributes to a reductionist approach concerning the use of imprisonment is the question of costs.

Is EM saving costs as widely advertised by its promoters, in particular the private companies selling the technology?

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One, at first glance, convincing argument is that the daily costs of EM are far smaller than a day costs in prison. However, this calculation is only valid if 1 EM is really replacing imprisonment and 2 a cheaper alternative, such as simple early release measures, probation or parole without EM are not available or appropriate.

The second consideration — whether any other options of sanctions could be used — is often neglected. One of the fatal consequences in this direction is the implementation of EM as a stand-alone sanction e. It is evident that other sentencing options, such as fines or community work orders, have not been sufficiently taken into consideration.

Having presented these mixed results, the main research question remains open — could EM also contribute to reducing reoffending and promoting social integration? From a theoretical point of view, one must differentiate and isolate EM as an integrated rehabilitative measure that cannot be easily evaluated, as it is combined with the rehabilitative work of the correctional and probation services. However, one could build comparable groups of probationers with and without EM even in a randomized experiment. EM, as a stand-alone measure, could be evaluated more easily.

The problem is that the theoretical assumptions are not really convincing: why should EM reduce crime in the cases where no other social support is provided?

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The only theoretical aspect is that the offender calculates that they will be detected when reoffending and that they do not want be moved to a prison population. This is the classic question of general prevention or deterrence , which cannot be addressed exhaustively here see, in general, Nagin ; Pratt, Cullen ; Pratt et al.

In general, one can say that getting-tough-policy strategies more police density and prosecution, increasing incarceration rates and the severity of punishment have the lowest effects on crime rates Pratt, Cullen Deterrence research differentiates between the perceived severity of punishment in case of reoffending and the certainty of being detected and reconvicted.

It can be taken as a general validated result that certainty has a more important deterrent effect than the severity element. In general, criminal law and crime policy factors, as well as the sentencing practice, are of less importance than other social environment factors, such as social bonds etc. Pratt et al. Severity and the deterrence composites factors had the lowest mean size effects compared to the factor certainty and, in particular, to non-legal factors.

If further variables from other criminological theories are considered, such as self-control, peer-influences and the like, the strength of deterrence variables is further weakened. In taking these results into account, one may expect some deterrent effect of EM, as it increases the probability of being detected, in particular while being under GPS tracking. On the other hand, there are also negative effects, such as the stigmatization of wearing devices that persons in the public might recognize, or other restrictions of daily life that might endanger the compliance.

For example, it was reported that the compliance for EM replacing pre-trial detention is lower because the time under EM, as an alternative to pre-trial detention, does not count for a prison sentence the offender may later receive in the court judgement.

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Studies by Canadian scholars revealed that there was no reduction of crime for electronically supervised probationers compared to regular probationers supervised by conventional surveillance techniques Wallace-Capretta, Roberts , p. The result that reoffending during the EM-period remains the exception is consistent with the deterrence perspective under the realistic presumption that EM increases the risk of detection when being under electronic surveillance.

The studies existing so far for evaluating the effects of EM do not show any superior effect on preventing reoffending better than other traditional community sanctions, but quite a lot of problems in other areas of daily life stress in the families, EM as a serious burden, possibly stigmatizing in the outside community etc. Another more favorable study was a Swedish project evaluated by Marklund and Holmberg However, the positive outcomes for EM-clients have to be seen in the Swedish rehabilitation model, as EM is embedded in the whole range of rehabilitative support employment, housing and other probation and community services; see also Renzema , p.

Another important research result is that EM is more promising for medium and high-risk offenders than for low-risk offenders, where no significant reduction of reoffending could be found see Renzema, Mayo-Wilson ; Renzema As the commentary to the EM-Rules states,. Location monitoring technology cannot in itself bring about a change of attitude or behaviour in the way that a number of probation initiatives and programmes dealing with offending behaviour are designed to do.

Council of Europe , Commentary to Rule 8, referring to Wennerberg , see above. This result is also underlined by a recent study conducted in France by Henneguelle, Monnery, Kensey They compared EM-cases all cases in the years — with possibly eligible prisoners 5 years after release. The differential analysis showed that the main reasons for a lower recidivism rate of the EM group was that they were strongly supported by home visits of probation officers and employment programs that they had to participate in. Unfortunately, the study did not compare the alternative of suspended sentences with probationary supervision but without EM.

The data indicate that the factors of probationary and other support probably had the major impact on reduced reoffending rates; therefore, it could be said that it is not EM but just the traditional care and supervision in the context of suspended sentences that make the difference in incarceration rates. This is plausible because the length of EM supervision on average was just 73 days median: two months, see Henneguelle, Monnery, Kensey , p. During the later development of EM in France after , the practice of home visits almost totally disappeared, and the length of EM declined to less than 50 days in average, which might further undermine the claimed positive effects of EM Henneguelle, Monnery, Kensey , p.

So, the French data give no evidence that EM is superior to traditional forms of supervision by the probation service, although it may possess a potential in being superior to custody. The consequences with regards to the principle of proportionality are discussed in Part 8. There is, however, some evidence also in the French study that there might be cases, in particular those of younger offenders, where EM could contribute to establishing daily routines and structures and could therefore help stabilize the lives of offenders who would otherwise not have completed their rehabilitative programs and who thereby benefit from them.

In summary, it is clear that EM is not a panacea — neither for reducing prison population rates nor for reducing reoffending rates or promoting the social integrating of offenders. It is the task of critical empirical research to explore under what conditions and with whom EM can play a constructive role in arriving at the aims described by its promoters.

Beyond empirical evidence, the human rights approach has largely been neglected. EM is an intrusive measure and must be justifiable against less intrusive measures or sanctions. Therefore, policymakers should use EM only in cases where other community options are not sufficient or effective for reaching the abovementioned goals of preventing crime and promoting social reintegration. A concrete policy recommendation would be to implement EM only in cases where 1 otherwise imprisonment would be unavoidable and 2 other community options would not be sufficient.

The second part of the conditions under which EM can be acceptable is mostly neglected; therefore, a strong overuse of EM can be identified. Germany insofar should not be stigmatized as an outsider who has to reconsider its policy, but instead be seen as a country that has taken the principle of proportionality seriously as required per international standards and recommendations.

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A few countries in our research are in the same line, however not consequently enough in all aspects see the example of Finland above. If the principle of proportionality is taken seriously, EM must be used only in the few cases where no other alternative to custody is available or appropriate. The result in the Federal state of Hesse in Germany trying to follow this approach is that about 80 offenders out of 16 offenders under regular probationary supervision qualify for EM without having excluded the net-widening effects in all cases.

As a stand-alone sanction for low-risk offenders, EM is the policy and practice in England and Belgium, and therefore should definitely be rejected. There is one other group of cases where EM can be justified. Important is the quantitative dimension. Out of about 37 offenders under supervision of conduct orders see DBH , about 60—70 are under electronic supervision, which may be justifiable for the sake of safety in the general society.

Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing. Evaluation, Geschichte und Zahlen. DBH-Materialien Nr. European Penology — The rise and fall of prison population rates in Europe. European Journal of Criminology 14 in preparation. European Journal of Probation 9, p. Haverkamp, R. Electronic monitoring. Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

London, New York: Springer, p. Better at Home than in Prison? Journal of Law and Economics 59, p.