Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Electronic bracelets promising

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A study on the use of electronic monitoring for high-risk car thieves says the technology played only a small role in the decline of auto theft, which is hardly surprising considering no more than 16 young offenders were in the program at any time during the two-year pilot project.

The study by University of Manitoba criminology student Ashley Pearson offered some evidence, however, that the use of ankle bracelets can have a positive effect on crime. About 44 per cent of the young offenders she interviewed said the bracelets made them less likely to steal a car, while some offenders said the monitoring helped improve their lives.

These conclusions, of course, are drawn exclusively from the testimony of the offenders, which should be treated cautiously. But if the young car thieves were speaking truthfully, the program would have to be judged positively, since a 44 per cent success rate in crime deterrence is not insignificant.

Others in the program were found to be incorrigible, which is also not a huge surprise among the cohort under study -- young, poor aboriginals who don't see any opportunity in life other than crime.

The province's decision to test the use of electronic monitoring on chronic car thieves appears to have been motivated more by politics than hard evidence. It was only implemented, for example, following repeated demands from the Opposition Conservatives and others to crack down on auto theft.

Since then, it's been learned that ignition immobilizers are more effective than other means at reducing the problem.

The province says it is waiting for more reports before expanding the monitoring program, but there are a number of ways it could be applied that might boost social justice and improve public safety.

More than 50 per cent of the people in provincial jails, for example, are awaiting trial or sentencing. They can't get bail because they have no money or are considered a flight risk.

Many of these alleged offenders could benefit from electronic monitoring if it allowed them to remain free in the community under conditions. The candidates for such a program would need to be screened for suitability, but it could cut the cost of warehousing offenders and free up room for sentenced prisoners.

Dangerous people, particularly sex offenders, should also be considered. There's a risk, of course, that they would breach their conditions, but electronic monitoring would detect the violation and alert the police to arrest the offender.

There are many potential benefits to electronic monitoring, but the province needs to use the program in the best ways possible, not merely to address political criticism.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 11, 2012 A10

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