This Post was written by Mr. Nuno Caiado – Head of Portuguese EM dept.
Portugal started using Electronic Monitoring for Domestic Violence (DV) several years ago. Since 2012, it initially started with RF reverse tagging and later, GPS technology, which meant territorial and mobile exclusion zones, along with involving the victim in the Electronic Monitoring operations. Today, we manage around 475 cases on a daily basis nationwide. The program is managed by the EM Department, which is a part of the Probation branch of Portuguese Correctional Services.
The Domestic Violence program began with a very strong political drive, which caused the transition from RF to GPS too quickly. This was a very serious mistake that the Probation service could not avoid. We would like to pilot first, then gradually evaluate and extend.
Nonetheless, we consider GPS to be the right tool for the purpose of controlling DV offenders. GPS is more appropriate than RF because it provides more accurate information both for the offender and the victim, unlike with RF. With RF, you would just be alerted if the offender approached the victim at home and if the bracelet wasn’t removed. If it was removed, no alert will be generated (also when the battery is low).
Most cases run as a pre-trial when court feels the urgency of controlling the aggressive impulses of offenders, while avoiding prison. For after-trial cases, offenders must be submitted to other programs focusing on aggressive behavior, such as Behaviorist programs. While in these programs, offenders learn to recognize the problem and then to control themselves. This approach combined with EM seems to be a better solution in preventing recidivism. EM is an excellent tool to gather more knowledge on whether the exclusion zones are actually met by the offender.
However, we stress EM should not be used in all DV cases. We believe most cases do not require such aggressive and intrusive action that EM provides and a small number of other cases demands an even stronger response that only can be given by incarceration. The EM tool can be a great tool in cases with medium-risk offenders.
After studying 850 DV cases, we have a compliance rate between 97 and 98%, which is considered to be good. This figure seems to be high but why is that? We have identified three causes: 1.) Operations are conducted in a very rigorous way, where we try to pay attention to all events trying to connect them with the knowledge we have gathered of the persons involved) 2.) EM can be really corrective and pedagogical 3.) There is a net widening effect, which means there are too many low- risk offenders in the system.
Perhaps, it can be useful to highlight some key aspects based on our experience.
Pilot – always pilot first! The price of the absence of a pilot will always be paid at greater cost because knowledge about the technology and the settlement of the procedures was not acquired in an experimental and controlled environment. Consequently, this hands-on learning is done in the worst of circumstances.
Proximity – this is the most critical point to manage when you have a considerable amount of cases. In a majority of them, offenders and victims live in the same city borough or in the same small village. This is usually a severe problem in the management of operations. When people live closer to each other, there is a pattern of movements. People tend to use same local resources (transportation, supermarket, parks, services and stores) and to have overlap routines, which generate frequent alarms. You can have it due to intentional or unintentional approaches from both the offender and the victim. So, you can say you have a lot of information about two persons, but their indicators of behaviors needed to be read very carefully. This creates exhaustive work to follow the case. Not surprisingly, you can find a significant burnout among the staff. This issue would benefit from a technological solution to mitigate the problem.
Offenders under this kind of EM are frequently “wilder” than the traditional home curfew or house arrest offenders. Not being under the pressure to remain inside for 24 hours a day makes a difference because they feel the weight of the course of justice in a less severe manner, despite the limitations to which they are subjected to. Your offender’s behavior is more rugged and less disciplined because of this. On the other hand, DV victims are frequently dubious regarding their offenders, which reflects the behaviors in the system.
Telecoms – we use 2G, but it is a limited tool because you cannot use data and voice communications at the same time, unlike 3G, which we are changing to soon. Moreover, 3G is expected to provide faster communication as well.
Final comment – The EM industry should listen to the needs and concerns of their consumers. They should be inspired by the issues they face and strive to meet their needs in a way that will create solutions for justice.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.