he first offender in the Southern Cape, serving a lifetime sentence, was released on full parole this week, wearing an electronic monitoring device.
The parolee, who lives in Mossel Bay, seemed very nervous during the tagging procedure that took place at the Mossel Bay Correctional Youth Centre on Monday, 21 April. He requested that his identity not be revealed in the media.
According to 2011 statistics, South Africa ranked in ninth position worldwide with regards to overcrowding in prisons. Hence, the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) decided to implement electronic monitoring of certain offenders as an management tool to improve their services.
Offering solutions in streamlining services
A pilot project for electronic monitoring of offenders serving life, sentenced before 1 March 1994 , was launched in February this year. Thus far, 107 participants were tagged throughout the country. Correctional Services Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula recently said that the project has been a resounding success and mentioned that it is time to extend electronic monitoring to other categories of offenders, including offenders still serving custodial sentences, in correctional centres.
It was also reported on SABC News last week that Mapisa-Nqakula is proposing that South African courts consider the electronic tagging of offenders as a form of sentence for petty criminals, instead of incarceration.
Feedback on the effective use of electronic monitoring received from Washington US, Brazil and China, where this technology has been implemented, was used in determining whether this management tool could be useful within the South African context.
In December 2011, the tender for providing the technology used during the year-long pilot project was awarded to Engineered Systems Solutions (ESS). The local company has a footprint in Israel where this particular monitoring system has been developed and tested under the 3M brand. Since December, the company has established a centralised control room in Pretoria and is also responsible for training DCS officials in managing the control room.
What is electronic monitoring?
Electronic monitoring involves a tagging procedure, in which a watch-like receiver is strapped to the leg. A GPS transmitter, roughly the size of a smart phone, is worn on the parolee's person and the unit has to remain within a 15m range from the receiver. Both the receiver and the transmitter are SABS approved, waterproof for 5m and do not irritate the skin. The receiver is not removable and if it is tampered with, an alarm signal is set off, indicating that there is a breach of parole conditions. The tracking device sends a signal every 30 seconds to the control room, based in Pretori,a where the tagged person is monitored, utilising GPS 24 hours a day. An alarm is set off, alerting probation officials when the parolee is in the vicinity of a prohibited area. When the parolee is in violation mode, the transmitter sends off a signal every 10 seconds. The parolee is then given 60 seconds to vacate the prohibited area.
Impact on service delivery
Community Corrections in the Southern Cape, is doing monitoring covering vast distances like Melkhoutsfontein (120km), Still Bay (130km), Vermaaklikheid (150km), Carcia (120km) and Jongensfontein (135km).
According to Mr Fanie Gouws, Area Co-ordinator Corrections for the Southern Cape Management Area, the aim of electronic monitoring is to:
· Promote public safety and security through effective supervision and control over offenders who are subjected to community corrections.
· Provide managers and supervising officials with proven and modern technology to enhance their operations.
· Restrict unauthorised movement of offenders who are on parole, those under correctional supervision or remand detainees under supervision of Correctional Services.
· Assist the Criminal Justice System to reduce the negative influence that incarceration has on young offenders and first time offenders of minor crimes, by diverting them to non-custodial sentences under community corrections.
· Enable offenders to participate in rehabilitation programmes and social responsibilities in their communities.
· Contribute to a reduction in offender population in correctional centres.
"This initiative will not only have a positive impact on overcrowding, but will contribute to improve the efficiency of our monitoring actions," says Gouws.
Gouws also confirmed that the normal monitoring actions in this particular case will, however, still be done.
Mr Philip Busch, Head of the Mossel Bay Correctional Youth Centre, is very positive about the electronic monitoring project and said that, should it be successfully implemented, it will have a major impact on the tracking and management of offenders after their release. He also welcomed the notion of the use of electronic tracking being extended as a form sentence for petty crime, acting as a deterrent, impacting the number of youth offenders being incarcerated.
Brigadier Gerhard Jantjies, Head of the SAPD Da Gamaskop Cluster, commented that electronic monitoring could serve to provide a credible monitoring system, aiding the work of the SAPD. "With the transcripts of parolees movements being available as reliable evidence, this will certainly ease the judicial process," said Jantjies.
The tagging procedure was attended by DCS Area Commissioner Southern Cape Mrs Booi, Mr Gouws, Area Co-ordinator Corrections for the Southern Cape, Head of Community Corrections Mossel Bay Mr Myners, Head of the Mossel Bay Youth Centre Mr Busch, as well as members of the SAPD Brig Jantjies, Head of the Da Gamaskop Cluster and Lt-Col Braaf, station commander of KwaNonqaba.
By Cornelle Carstens