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8.6.2 Electronic Monitoring of Offenders

Electronic monitoring (EM) equipment is used as a surveillance tool to track whether offenders serving curfews comply with their curfews. The sanction has been criticised for emerging purely as a result of the new technology and as its implementation has been driven by technological advances (Padgett et al, 2006). The discussion below examines how the sanction impacts on people's lives and its effectiveness as a public protection tool and a rehabilitation technique.

Electronic monitoring works by attaching a tag the size of a watch around an individual's ankle. The tag contains a transmitter which sends a signal to a receiver that subsequently sends information via a phone line to a central computer (National Audit Office, 2006: 40). The receiver has a set range and this is usually the perimeter of an individual's house. When the tag is taken outside the range of the receiver there is a break in the signal and this information is relayed to a central computer and subsequent processed by an officer.

Electronic monitoring technology has made supervising curfews a precise science with the removal of the need for any human co-presence and the introduction of the 'electronically mediated remote monitoring' (Bottomley, Hucklesby, Mair and Nellis, 2002: 56). Electronic monitoring reflects a move away from processing humans through direct interaction and instead digital information is used to monitor and make decision regarding how they are processed and this reflects a theme drawn out across the two other security technologies covered in this module. Surveillance is undertaken at a distance through the 'the computerised creation of digital personae from a variety of data' and in terms of electronic monitoring this includes 'risk profiles, curfew schedules and recorded conversations with monitors' (Bottomly et al, 2002: 78). Electronic monitoring is another example within this unit of a surveillance technique that is focused upon the body and this can remove the need to understand why an individual has behaved in a certain manner.

Initial criticisms of the technology indicated that the invasion of the private realm by governments using private bodies was intrusive and barbaric (Lilly and Ball, 1987). Electronic monitoring of offenders on curfews aims to protect the public by acting as a control mechanism and allowing offenders to rehabilitate within their own home with the additional benefit of removing individuals from custodial settings which can reinforce their offending behaviour. The UK has adopted two forms of electronic monitoring orders (National Audit Office, 2006):

Home Detention Curfews that allow prisoners sentenced to over 3 months in custody to be released early to an address to help individuals make the transition from custody to the community. Prisoners can only be released early if they meet the eligibility criteria and failure to keep to the conditions of the curfew means they will be returned to prison.

Curfew Orders can be imposed on an offender as a stand-alone community order or in conjunction with other sentences. The curfew hours are set by the court and must be between 2 and 12 hours a day. The curfew should be put in place to disrupt offending patterns and this may include shoplifting or alcohol related offences. The strength of the sanction is that it allows offenders to maintain their employment and family ties.

Bottomley et al (2004) examined the factors that made electronic monitoring a distinctive and new form of social control and suggested that it forms part of the managerialism approach of New Labour that is characterised by efficiency and real time control, risk management and enforcement. The technology represented a movement away from the humanistic values traditionally held by the Probation Service that involve the 'slow nurturing of inner change in offenders' and electronic monitoring represents a movement 'towards the galvanising of rapid processes of outward compliance' (Bottomley et al, 2004: 71). The technology provides the capacity for real-time monitoring of offenders' movements and this offers a new level of power to their supervisors. The risk management characteristics of electronic monitoring reflect the emergence of a 'risk society' and the influence of commercial agencies in the monitoring process leading to pro-active approaches. The technology addresses some of the uncertainties linked to other community sentences, as constant surveillance and accurate monitoring should in theory lead to higher levels of social control. Electronic monitoring is a surveillance device and does not put any physical limitations on offenders therefore the compliance and enforcement aspects of the sanction depends on offenders keeping to the conditions of their curfew due to the surveillance of the technology. The ability of the state to monitor the locations of offenders through electronic monitoring reflects a common experience for individuals within late modern society. Although it is different from the 'self-chosen locatability' experience by the general public they are 'on the same continuum of experience (Nellis, 2003: 73).