29 Mar 2016

Non-removable monitoring bracelets on horizon

2:13 pm on 29 March 2016

Corrections is working on non-removable monitoring bracelets after figures released to RNZ News showed 20 to 47 offenders with bracelets were missing at any one time.

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About 4000 people are on electronic monitoring at any one time, Corrections says. Photo: Supplied

Corrections Minister Judith Collins said the ministry was working with 3M, the private provider contracted to monitor those wearing the bracelets.

Describing the tamper-proof bracelets as a world first, she was unwilling to provide a date for when they would be introduced.

"We'll have to wait and see until they're ready. I would say it's a few months yet but they won't be for everyone on electronic monitoring because most people ... about 99.5 percent, respect that it is a privilege and the alternative is jail."

Judith Collins

Corrections Minister Judith Collins Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

She has previously said those removing the bracelets represent a fraction of the roughly 4000 sentenced to wear them.

Labour's Corrections spokesperson Kelvin Davis said more money needed to be put into monitoring people wearing the anklets.

"If there's between 20 and 47 people on any given day who are running wild and free without their bracelet, that means there's between 20 and 47 communities that are living in fear that somebody could do something to them and nobody knows where that person is or should be."

The government should not try to play down the problem of the devices being removed, Mr Davis said.

The figures for missing offenders included those on electronic bail facing criminal charges, convicted offenders sentenced to home or community detention, and inmates released on conditions such as parole or extended supervision orders.

The time taken to find people who had removed the bracelets varied between hours and weeks - but in most cases the public had nothing to fear, Corrections deputy national commissioner Rachel Leota said.

However, Ms Leota acknowledged the upper limit of 47 people on the run at any one time was slightly higher than average.

Since electronic monitoring was introduced in 1999, it has mostly been used for people on bail, home detention or a sentence where they were allowed to attend work. It was rarely used for high-risk criminals such as recidivist sex offenders, she said.

Most of the bracelets being removed used GPS and triggered alerts at the monitoring centre run by 3M, the private company contracted by Corrections.

If this happens, the company contacts Corrections which can take a range of actions including dispatching police, contacting the offender or visiting the offender, Ms Leota said.

Victims advocate Ruth Money recently acted for Auckland woman Blessie Gotingco's family after the 56-year-old was raped and murdered by a man wearing a GPS tracker.

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Ruth Money, pictured, recently acted for murdered Auckland woman Blessie Gotingco's family. Photo: Supplied

It was not good enough for Corrections to explain away the number of criminals removing their bracelets by saying it was less than 1 percent of the total number being monitored, she said.

"It's completely disrespectful to that family and actually the New Zealand public as a whole to make a comment, like it's only 1 percent of everybody with a bracelet.

"It's absolutely disgraceful they would make a comment like that when we have 47 people unaccounted for as of January."

GPS bracelets could work for low-level offenders, but as it stood not enough people were being employed to keep an eye on those wearing them, she said.

"Monitoring is not putting a bracelet on these people and trusting them to do the right thing.

"They have already breached that trust, that's why they have a bracelet on in the first place. They need to be monitored."

Criminals removing their bracelets were just the tip of the iceberg, said Kim Workman, an advisor to justice reform group Just Speak.

"Every day, as I understand it, well over a hundred people who are on GPS monitoring breach the conditions. So they move outside the boundaries of the order and so on.

"And those breaches go largely unreported because they simply don't have the capacity to visit people who do that."

Most of those going missing while being monitored did not pose a threat to the public, Mr Workman said.

But the high numbers not playing by the rules showed that making people wear bracelets was a totally ineffective way of reintegrating them into the community, he said.

"Going into a shop, if people see the bracelet, they naturally assume they are going to be shoplifters, if they apply for a job, the presence of the bracelet means they are not going to get through the door, when they go to social events, people will steer clear of them. So it's a stigma."

In response to Ms Money's criticisms, Ms Leota said it was important to note that Tony Robertson was wearing his bracelet at the time he murdered Ms Gotingco and was not in breach of his release conditions.

Since then, Corrections had stationed an officer within police headquarters who was able to share information with police on the location of offenders wearing the bracelets, she said.