It has taken all of nine years but, finally, the law providing for electronic monitoring is being activated.
Initially approved by Parliament in 2012, the Administration of Justice (Electronic Monitoring) Act 2012 made provisions for an Electronic Monitoring Unit under the then-Ministry of Justice, later subsumed within the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs. Why it took nine years to get the system rolling is one of the mysteries of government in this country.
Now that it is coming on stream, we hope its operationalisation will not suffer the teething problems that would undermine the objectives. Public confidence requires that every effort be made to ensure that the system does not fail due to lack of communication and preparation.
While electronic monitoring is an option for all prisoners except those charged with murder and treason, the resources are not yet available for broad application. The 250 monitoring bracelets purchased by the State at a cost of $10.3 million will go only so far in meeting the demand for an alternative to incarceration. However, while the price of $41,200 per bracelet is not one to be sneezed at in these times, its value as a potential lifesaver for victims and witnesses of crime cannot be understated.
We will never know how many lives could have been saved if the system had been introduced earlier; however, we can say with confidence that some victims of domestic violence would be alive today had it been implemented.
Until now, the justice system’s inability to monitor alleged abusers not only left victims vulnerable to attack, but discouraged victims from even seeking protection under the law because they were not convinced that it was equipped to protect them from suspects who breached protection orders.
Given the system’s reliance on GPS, its application is limited to areas with good reception. However, the progress to electronic monitoring of suspects should not become one more service denied to victims in already under-served rural communities. There must be ways around this that should be explored.
Police statistics show an alarming increase in domestic violence reports, with the TTPS’s Gender-Based Violence Unit receiving 1,132 reports between January and April this year, compared to 781 reports for the same period last year. Acting Supt Claire Guy-Alleyne, who heads the unit, has noted that the figure may not necessarily reflect an increase in violence and may be attributable to a greater willingness by victims to report offenders. However, the rise reported in Tobago recently by Secretary of the Division of Health, Wellness and Family Development Tracy Davidson-Celestine seems consistent with anecdotal evidence.
With the Covid-19 pandemic putting extreme pressures on families and relationships, stress should be expected to further fuel domestic violence.
On its own, electronic monitoring is not enough to counter domestic, sexual and other crimes, but needs to be part of a larger, integrated strategy. The challenge for T&T will be to integrate all available resources within ministries, institutions and civil society into a single coherent strategy. With stress levels unlikely to fall anytime soon, T&T must be ready to step up the national response.