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KINGSTON Non-violent offenders in local prisons who have shown signs of rehabilitation may soon enjoy the freedom of an electronic monitoring programme, Minister of National Security, Senator Hon. Dwight Nelson, said Tuesday July 5, 2011.

The initiative, launched at the Department of Correctional Services (DCS), Kingston, will facilitate early conditional release of low risk/non-violent offenders, who have completed at least a third of their sentences in an adult correctional centre.

They will be fitted with electronic monitoring devices, called Personal Tracking Devices (PTDs),  worn on the hip like a cell phone, or special ankle bracelets, called Personal Identification Devices (PIDs), which give correctional officers the ability to track their location.

Speaking at the launch, Senator Nelson said that the introduction of the new system follows an extensive review of law enforcement initiatives, which have shown that electronic monitoring of released inmates is being increasingly used as an effective tool in other jurisdictions.

“The review and evaluation of the system indicates that it could be useful to Jamaica in cases of early release of adult parolees into the community, and assist in the re-entry process into the community, by monitoring the movements of persons placed in these conditional release programmes,” he stated.

Senator Nelson said it was felt that the use of the system by the DCS could greatly increase the number of offenders in rehabilitation programmes, and contribute to the reduction of the prison population, while offering an alternative to extended custody.

“In the process the financial burden on the state, with regard to maintaining those incarcerated, would be reduced,” he noted, pointing out that it costs approximately $800,000 annually to maintain each prisoner.

The DCS will commence the programme with 15 units for an initial six months, with a scope for expansion. Each tag is expected to cost the department US$16.50 per day to operate.

Curfew orders will be placed on offenders, limiting their ability to access certain locations at specific times of the day. This should help to disrupt certain patterns of criminal behaviour, including burglaries, car theft, break-ins and public disorder offences. The Minister said a reduction in these offences will ultimately help to improve public safety.

The conditional pre-release initiative started in 2008 with a pilot programme of 46 volunteers in six parishes. They were fitted with PIDs to test the effectiveness of the system over a two-year period.

Mr. Nelson said that the formal evaluation of the project has shown that it has been an overwhelming success, surpassing expectations.

“It has demonstrated the ability of the system to successfully track offenders across our mountainous terrain and remote areas of the island, and provide a coordinated response where breaches may occur,” he stated.  In addition, he said, an opinion survey among the stakeholders also indicated a positive attitude to the use of the tool.

“This has paved the way for the introduction of the system in Jamaica on a limited scale, in the first instance,” he said.

Senator Nelson credited the diligency of the DCS, the JCF, the Ministry of Justice, the Jamaica Defence Force and the Community Services Section of his ministry, which deals with probation and does invaluable work on the ground to provide after care services to help offenders make the transition back into lives of their families and their communities. He also thanked Dilieu and Serco Geografix Limited for bringing the technology to Jamaica, and for providing the technical support and training to the staff of the DCS.

The conditional pre-release programme, of which electronic tagging is the core, forms part of Government’s policy to ensure offenders and ex-offenders are provided with adequate rehabilitation and reintegration services, to become productive members of society. It provides an alternative to custodial sentences.

 

By ATHALIAH REYNOLDS, JIS Reporter