Adventures in electronic monitoring

 May 11th – three men appear in Summary Court on allegations of going equipped for stealing. Two of them had electronic monitoring devices on; the third didn’t.  
   One man said the tag, which is kept wrapped around the suspect’s leg by a plastic band that cannot be taken off without alerting authorities, was big and heavy. He complained to Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale that the monitor had to be charged for two hours a day.
   The man added that the device’s warning beeper – which activates to alert 911 when they are low on power – had gone off at work. He had to plug it into a wall socket at his desk.
   “How embarrassing is that?” he asked,
   “It’s soring up my leg,” the second suspect complained.
   911 Director Brent Finster says he can sympathise with some of the complaints, but he said he would like to ask these guys one question:
   “Would they rather stay in jail?”  
   According to a recent interview with Finster, a total of 16 people either have worn or are currently wearing new electronic monitors courtesy of the police, prisons or court system, according to records maintained by the 911 Emergency Communications Centre.
   Cayman’s criminal justice system has been using the monitors since January on people released from the custody of the courts and prisons; but so far the devices have not been used on probationers or for the government’s alternative sentencing programme.
   The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service was also given the ability in March to “tag” offenders who are released on police bail.
   Although the laws have been passed that would allow for electronic monitoring as part of a convict’s sentencing, Finster says Cayman doesn’t have facilities where prisoners participating in an alternative programme could stay.
   “There’s (sic) other parts of that law that had to do with things like halfway houses and the establishment of other alternative treatment and those things have never been funded,” Finster says. “The idea was to get them out of prison; instead of sentencing them to prison, sentence them to somewhere else.”
   The Probation and Aftercare Department currently performs its own monitoring of probationers. The agency is in discussions with 911 about using the monitors.
   So far, only early release prisoners and those on bail from either the courts or the police service have had electronic monitors attached to their legs.
   Of the 16 people who have been ordered to wear electronic monitors since January, seven were released on police bail – which means they were at least not initially charged with a crime. A change to Cayman Islands law in March allowed police to electronic monitor suspects whom they release prior to charges being filed against them.
   “They’ve always been able to bail somebody, but now they can have a little bit more in terms of their ability to make sure they’re not violating (bail) conditions,” Finster says.
   In some cases, those suspects can be re-arrested if they violate the parameters of their electronic monitors, even if they have already spent 12 days in jail – the maximum currently allowable by law without charges being filed.
   Seven of the people who have had to wear electronic monitors were sent home early from prison, which generally happens because of good behaviour or with those convicted of more minor offences who are let go when the prison becomes overcrowded.
   Monitoring periods for early release have so far not been very long. The longest any early release inmate has worn such a monitor is 41 days.
   Finster says, in most cases, the criminal justice system is trying to limit the possibility that released convicts will immediately re-offend.
   “As a way to introduce them back into society, they can have us tag that person just so we can…make sure they’re not going to go right out and start doing bad stuff again,” he says.
   Two of the suspects being monitored were released on bail from the courts system.
   Thus far, Finster says the monitoring system is working quite well – even if it is not being used for its primary purpose, which was alternative sentencing.
   The 911 system mainly carries out the orders of police, the courts or the prisons in tagging released prisoners. Once an individual receives an electronic monitoring anklet, they are kept on a list by 911 – and that list is monitored from the emergency facility 24 hours, seven days a week.  
   The monitoring system uses GPS technology to pinpoint a subject’s location. Parameters are set in each case as to where that person can go and where they can’t. If they step outside the acceptable boundaries, 911 officials are immediately notified and call in the appropriate authorities.
   The devices themselves are waterproof and are not ever removed from the person’s ankle. They must be recharged for two hours out of every 24 hour period. If a monitored subject allows the batteries to run down, 911 is alerted.
   Finster says there have been incidents “almost daily” with monitored individuals stepping outside the areas in which they are allowed to travel. Some have been simple accidents, others have led to re-arrest.
   For instance, in one recent court case a teenager charged with theft had been taken back into custody because his electronic ankle bracelet had activated while he was near his home. Police were alerted and the teen was found in his yard. He didn’t understand why he had to stay in the house, according to court testimony.
   The boy was released on bail and with a new electronic monitor still attached.
   He appeared again the next week, this time on a charge of burglary.
   According to Mrs. Ramsay-Hale: “At your trial the people who monitor your tag will say you were at the place where the burglary was committed…. You are tagged – I know every minute of the day where you are.”
   Apparently, the allegation is that the teen had committed the burglary while being monitored.
   The magistrate ordered that the teen be remanded in custody and his tag removed so it can be used with someone else “who has a chance to succeed in the community”.
   In another instance, this time in March, a man was arrested by Royal Cayman Islands Police at the scene of a killing in West Bay after his electronic monitor had gone off. Police said the man had wandered away from his area of confinement after hearing about the shooting of Damion Ming.
   According to the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs – which has oversight of all law enforcement agencies in the Cayman Islands – the intention is still to move forward with the alternative sentencing programme. But precisely how that is to occur is unknown.
   Portfolio Deputy Chief Officer Eric Bush said a meeting was scheduled on the issue within the next few weeks.

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