Tools

Volney: Monitoring prisoners costly

By Ria Taitt Political Editor

It cost $315.57 daily to maintain an offender in the prisons in Trinidad and Tobago in 2010, according to figures obtained from the Commissioner of Prisons.

But the approximate and final cost of monitoring an offender via an electronic device in Trinidad and Tobago would cost between US$13 (TT$84) and US$20 (TT$128).

So said Justice Minister Herbert Volney as he piloted the Electronic Monitoring bill in the Senate yesterday.

Volney said the use of electronic monitoring had the potential to increase the cost effectiveness of correctional programmes. It also presented enhanced opportunities for offender rehabilitation and extent the range of sentences available to the courts.

He said it would also reduce overcrowding of the prisons which was currently a problem in this country.

He said jurisdictions worldwide have acknowledged the electronic monitoring relieves the pressure on an overcrowded prison and that it enables valuable prison resources to be targeted at those offenders who represent a real risk to the public.

He said the overcrowding statistics for the nation's prisons for the period January to June 2011 reveal that the Port of Spain prison, Carrera prison, Tobago Convict prison and Remand Yard all surpassed their capacity.

The Port of Spain prison with a capacity of 250 inmates was 140 per cent overcrowded, Carrera, which has a capacity of 185 inmates, was 81 per cent overpopulated, Tobago Convict prison which has a capacity of 30, was 130 per cent overcrowded and Remand Yard with a capacity of 655 inmates, was 69 per cent overcrowded.

Volney said electronic monitoring also reduced recidivism.

He said in Trinidad and Tobago the recidivism rate was close to 55 per cent.

He said the rate reflected the role that correctional programmes played in re-integrating prisoners into society. "Sentencing low risk offenders to prison can lead to reoffending on release," he said.

He said family structures and support mechanisms were disrupted when low risk offenders are imprisoned and the revolving door of justice provokes a negative public reaction. He said the high rates of recidivism resulted in tremendous public costs, both in terms of safety and in tax dollars spent to arrest, prosecute and incarcerate re-offenders.

Volney said electronic monitoring was particularly useful in dealing with juvenile offenders. He said it was in the interest of the juvenile to avoid where possible, detention. He said Government was making vigorous efforts to implement an Offender Management system, which would have specific measures for dealing with juveniles, including the establishment of a Juvenile Offender Unit. This unit would combine rehabilitation with punishment, with focus on intense monitoring.

Volney said electronic monitoring was useful 1) as a domestic violence deterrent as a tool to strengthen the protective order; 2) as a condition of an order for bail at the pre-trial stages; 3) as a sentencing option; 4) in the early release of sentenced offenders; 5) in the monitoring of terrorist suspects and security risks; 6) in family proceedings, for the purpose of securing the welfare of the child and/or to prevent changes in the circumstances relevant to the determination of a custody matter; 7) and in treating with juvenile delinquency.

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