A new electronic supervision program that closely tracks criminal offenders is supposed to give British Columbians a piece of mind, but some critics say appropriate resources need to be allocated to ensure monitoring is effective.
A tracking system called Buddi Ltd. uses GPS and cellular technology to track an offender’s location. It programs ankle bracelets that help supervise offenders in the community and monitor compliance with court-ordered area restrictions.
The new GPS technology works the same way cell phone technology works with signals of where an offender currently is – or has been – tracked by the system.
In B.C., offenders are placed on electronic supervision by order of a provincial or Supreme Court judge and an electronic device is attached to suitable clients and monitored by BC Corrections.
Currently, the most common use for electronic supervision in B.C. is to monitor house arrest and curfew orders through the use of radio frequency.
B.C. Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Morris says using GPS technology is a major step-up.
“The old technology was [using] radio frequency, so it only monitored somebody when they are in close proximity to where they were supposed to be,” he says. “But if they left, we’d have no idea where they were.”
With the new system, if an offender has a geographic restriction, such as a “no-go zone” and they violate that condition, the ankle bracelet will send a signal that triggers an alarm.
Central Monitoring staff will track the software and can call police to attend the location, if necessary.
The devices are also designed to immediately alert monitoring staff in the event of tampering or unauthorized removal.
Morris says the new system is reserved for those offenders who require extensive and close supervision.
“There are all kinds of ways that we can supervise these people,” says Morris. “Ones that need to be incarcerated are incarcerated. But when a judge passes a sentence, he or she likes as many options as possible. And if there is an opportunity to keep somebody in their home under close supervision, then he or she is going to do it.”
The technology has been tested before — Buddi devices are being used throughout the world, including in Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and the UK.
In B.C., the system is already operational.
BC Corrections began phasing in the new electronic supervision technology last December. There are 43 people currently being electronically supervised.
Morris says the cost of the program runs at approximately $1 million a year, but it won’t replace home visits, curfew checks and public notifications.
NDP Public Safety Critic Mike Farnworth says while he welcomes the move towards more advanced technology, the government needs to make sure the monitoring, in fact, works.
“I think it is critical that if we have the latest technology that notifies the authorities, that the response is immediate,” says Farnworth. “You need to have people in place who are monitoring the GPS and are able to respond when a breach occurs.”
Farnworth says monitoring in B.C. has been substandard for a number of years and appropriate resources need to be allocated.
“Because if they are not, then they are setting up for failure,” he adds.