Premier pushes for more electronic monitors

Funding sought for another 30 ‘ankle tags’

The Cayman Islands criminal justice system is frequently running out of electronic monitors to assign to suspects released on bail conditions, prompting lawmakers to consider doubling the number of available units for the monitoring program. 

The government’s current budget allows for the lease of 35 “ankle tags” used in the electronic monitoring program at a cost of $239,000 annually.  

Premier Alden McLaughlin, whose Home Affairs Ministry is responsible for funding and overseeing public safety efforts in the Cayman Islands, said his administration was looking at acquiring 30 additional devices when the new contract for the electronic monitoring program provider comes up for bid.  

“Despite the reports from time to time about the monitors being interfered with, the system is working quite well and the courts are keen to use it,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “But a recent report this week showed they just didn’t have any more.”  

That report Mr. McLaughlin referenced, which was in the Caymanian Compass, indicated that two suspects before the courts this month were due to be released under bail conditions that included electronic monitoring, but had to stay in prison since there were no monitors available.  

In that story, 911 centre director Brent Finster stated that the original budget his department requested for the monitors submitted in February was $302,000, to included a maximum of 42 ankle monitors.  

“That budget request was cut back to fiscal year 2012/13 levels as [were] all of our budgets,” Mr. Finster said.  

The monitors, affixed to an individual’s ankle either by orders of the court, police or prison service, generally confine an individual to a prescribed area at certain times of day, according to the conditions of their bail release. If the individual steps outside that area, the monitors activate, alerting the 911 Emergency Communications Centre which in turns notifies the relevant law enforcement agency.  

“The program itself is not meant to replace physical incarceration,” said Home Affairs Ministry Chief Officer Eric Bush. “It is meant to supplement or be a stopgap between no supervision at all and incarceration.”  

Right now, the 35 available monitors are mostly used by the court, but four devices are assigned to police and one is given to the prison service. Mr. Bush said the monitors have proved quite popular since Cayman started using them in 2010.  

“The commissioner [of police] has explained to me that, at times, he’s having to give up his four for the sake of the conditions being … set by the court,” Mr. Bush said. “For all intents and purposes, it’s doing exactly what it’s meant to do.” 

There have been some difficulties with the electronic monitoring devices. In February, the Compass reported that some prisoners had managed to block the device’s signal by wrapping tinfoil around them. Others have tried to tamper with the ankle monitors, either cutting them off or smashing them. In the latter cases, Mr. Bush said the devices would automatically activate and the suspect who tampered with the monitor would be re-arrested.  

Mr. Bush said each year about 20 percent of the electronic monitors leased by government are damaged. Under the terms of the lease, replacement costs are borne by the contractor, not the Cayman Islands, Mr. Bush said.  

However, Finance Minister Marco Archer questioned whether it would be more cost effective to simply buy the 35 monitors rather than leasing them and reduce the cost of the annual payment. Each ankle monitor costs roughly $3,500.  

Mr. Bush said there are additional maintenance and communications costs with the monitors that government would have to pick up if it decided to purchase the devices, rather than lease them. He said the matter would be reviewed further when the current three-year electronic monitoring contract ended later this year.  

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Mr. McLaughlin
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