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What are some of the issues with Electronic Monitoring? 

In brief
  • Electronic Monitoring (aka EM) for both bail and sentencing of violent offenders has expanded significantly since 2017. 
  • Tinfoil can block the EM signal and gives offenders opportunities to re-offend undetected. 
  • Offenders have committed ramraids, robberies, and even murder while on EM. 
  • Victim advocate Ruth Money asks “If you can wrap a bit of tinfoil around it, what is the point?”

What is Electronic Monitoring? 

Electronic monitoring  (EM) is an umbrella term for a 24/7 system of remote supervision. Offenders sentenced to home detention and bailees are fitted with ankle bracelets. The monitoring system uses GPS or radio frequencies (or both) to keep track of their whereabouts.

Remote alcohol monitoring (RAM) equipment is sometimes incorporated into the bracelet using sweat-based sensors.

Theoretically, if the bracelet is cut, police are called.

Who’s on EM? 

Roughly 6500 people in New Zealand are on EM (up from about 4000 in 2017).

What are some of the issues with Electronic Monitoring?  - Centrist
Thousands of people are wearing one of these devices on any given day in NZ. Image by Department of Corrections

While reports vary, between 1800 to around 2300 of those are on bail. This represents a many fold increase in EM bail since 2017.  

Hundreds of those are accused of violent crimes including sexual offences.

The number of child sex offenders monitored with EM also increased roughly 40% between 2017 and 2022 to nearly 400 people. 

Questions arise about EM

Questions about EM go back years to at least 2016. 

In the year to June, breaches of all conditions while on electronic monitoring  reached a record high of 2035.  Annualizing the first 7 months, there would be about 3,500 violations per year, from amongst 6500 people.

Corrections says they don’t know what’s driving the increased number of  breaches.

The tamper and abscond rate in July of this year is about 1.4 percent (about 90 people).

A rise in “house arrest hacks”

A leaked police risk assessment report, EM Bail – “Foiling” and Monitoring Limitations says “an increasing appetite to manage higher risk violent offenders on EM” presents “an immediate risk to public safety”.

Criminals, including youth, are exploiting vulnerabilities in the home detention tracking system by wrapping tin foil around their ankle bracelets, allowing them to evade detection. Others are simply cutting them off.

Some then commit offences like, ramraids, smash and grabs, and murder.

Victim advocate Ruth Money asks “If you can wrap a bit of tinfoil around it, what is the point of having an EM bail system?”

A mass shooting on July 20 of this year in Auckland’s CBD  left three dead (including the shooter) and 10 wounded.

24-year-old Matu Tangi Matua Reid was on EM.

 Was it appropriate to have a violent offender like Reid in the community?

Lapses in supervision as well…

High volumes of alerts and limited resources to respond means that offenders may not be contacted in a timely manner in the event of a breach. 

One offender mistakenly had his EM device removed for nearly two days before the error was corrected. 

Further restrictions on EM eligibility needed? 

Labour’s reduction of the prison population correlates with an increased reliance on EM for sentencing. 

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins says he believes the next Parliament should look at whether further restrictions for EM eligibility would be appropriate. 

National wants EM reserved for non violent offenders.

ACT accused the Government’s increased reliance on EM for sex offenders as “going light”. ACT also calls for increasing EM use for young ramraiders.

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