Electronic Monitoring of Offenders in India: Enhancing Supervision and Addressing Challenges

Electronic Monitoring of Offenders in India: Enhancing Supervision and Addressing Challenges

Electronic monitoring (EM) for offenders, also known as e-tagging or e-monitoring, typically used for offenders ordered House Arrest as a pre-trial confinement, which allows undertrials to stay at home until the conclusion of their trial. EM involves the use of electronic devices to track and monitor the movements and behaviours of individuals. EM includes ankle bracelets, wrist bands, mobile apps or other related devices track individual’s movement.

These devices use Radio Frequency (RF), GPS technology or some form of biometric (face id or fingerprints) for communication. These transmit signals to a home base unit (for RF) or use GPS technology/ biometrics along with timestamping to capture movement of individuals and share the collated information at a fixed frequency during the day the monitoring centre about through Wifi, Cellular network or LAN. These devices enable authorities to enforce specific conditions, such as house arrest, curfews, or exclusion zones. and alerts the monitoring centres in case of any zone violations. The data collected through EM programme helps ensure compliance, facilitate prompt response to violations, and provide valuable evidence for criminal investigations.

EM has a strong uptake for offenders under community supervision (including house arrest) in UK, Europe, US, Australia, Canada, and multiple South American countries. For example, in the UK, EM is tagged on offenders serving community sentences, or on parole, or those released on license from prison. The system allows authorities to intervene promptly if an offender violates the imposed conditions. However, for India to promote EM programme at scale as an alternative to detention, requires clear understanding of pros and cons of the EM deployment.

Benefits and Limitations of Electronic Monitoring

EM can help alleviate prison overcrowding by providing an alternative to incarceration for low-risk offenders. For countries like India where prison occupancy stands at 130% and prison population rate (prisoner/ 100k population) increasing from 26 in 2000 to 40 in 2021, EM can act as an alternate solution.

Often considered as a cost-effective alternative to incarceration, EM can help reduce the overall prison operating expenses. In India, where ~76% prisoners are under trials, it would be prudent to introduce EM for low-risk offenders, as it may significantly reduce the expenses associated with housing, feeding, and providing healthcare to inmates when monitored in the community.

Also, EM promotes the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders by enabling them to maintain employment, attend educational programmes, or participate in treatment programmes while under supervision. This can enhance their chances of successful reintegration into society.

However, supervision through EM device is plagued by the very nature of its characteristic of not being 100% tamperproof and can be circumvented by individuals who wish to violate their conditions. Further, technology is not without errors, and false positives or negatives can occur, leading to false alerts or wrongful allegations against the monitored individuals.

On top of it all, there is social stigma and offenders under EM may face discrimination, as their status as offenders is visible to the public through the ankle-bracelet devices. This can hinder their rehabilitation and reintegration efforts and may even lead to recidivism. To overcome this, Governments are looking for innovative form-factors such as Smartwatch/ wrist bands, mobile apps (face, fingerprint, or both) and chained EM devices (as they do not appear like a typical ankle bracelet) that work on biometrics and GPS. These EM devices can be masked as an accessory(s), thereby reducing social stigma.

Through cost associated with implementing and running EM programmes on individuals, which is typically high is one challenge, cost sharing of the technology with the individuals being monitored (in USA, the offender bears the daily EM cost). Acquisition of devices, creation of monitoring centres, personnel training, and daily/ weekly/ monthly report generation, all come at a cost. As Indian justice system faces severe financial constraints, using EM programme can also lead to a long-term cost savings, as if properly executed, it may reduce the requirement for new prison establishments.

Further, the legal framework surrounding EM needs to be strengthened. Clear guidelines and legislation that address privacy concerns, data protection, and the rights of offenders must be framed to ensure the ethical and lawful use of electronic monitoring technologies.

EM has the potential to function as an alternative to traditional imprisonment and facilitate offender rehabilitation. However, its successful implementation requires addressing challenges such as technological infrastructure, funding, social stigma, legal frameworks, and training. Appropriate training for law enforcement personnel/ prison staff is crucial to ensure strong understanding of capabilities and limitations of the system. Policymakers, law enforcement agencies and prison authorities must collaborate to develop comprehensive strategies for efficient EM deployment to improve the criminal justice system, reduce recidivism rates and promote a safer society.

Author: Manish Mishra,

Head, Strategy Consulting

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