Crime prevention & rehabilitation: One electronic monitor at a time

On Monday, 4th May 2021, the Maltese government finally took the plunge towards a brighter future. A brighter future, for society at large, but more importantly, for those who so crucially require complete reformation and prompt rehabilitation.

A White Paper has been issued, with the aim of encouraging public debate about Electronic Monitoring.

The legal parameters proposed in this paper naturally exclude the possibility of Electronic Monitoring for the vast majority of serious crimes. And so, prima facie, citizens can have the peace of mind that people who have just committed such crimes and who may endanger the lives of others, will not in fact be running around within society.

But what about benefits beyond the prima facie?

The Security of Society  

Yes, this might sound ironic at first, yet if one had to take a look at the crimes for which a sentence of one year imprisonment or less is given, it is rather evident that these crimes are rarely ever violent or dangerous in nature. Having these people in prison or out in the streets hardly ever makes a difference when it comes to the safety and security of the public.

With regards to the fear that naturally subsists, this is compensated for by that very same Electronic Monitor, which can continuously invigilate the person convicted.

Hope for a Better Future

Can we genuinely say that crimes punishable with less than one year imprisonment merit the complete deprivation of liberty solely on the premise of rehabilitation? Rehabilitation is a vast concept – agreed. A controversial one too. No one can deny however, that imprisonment in such cases leads to loss of stable employment, educational failures and complete financial instability; employment, education and finances which albeit reachable, will most definitely require the individual to start from scratch once he/she is released from prison after serving his or her short sentence. 

The ability to serve a sentence by means of an Electronic Monitor and all the while not losing more than one has already lost, is what I like to see as a win-win for both society, present and future, and also the person convicted. It does not necessarily take prison to punish and reform a person.

Electronic Monitoring is also being proposed when the Parole Board is granting parole to inmates currently residing at CCF and also when granting Prison Leave. A stride in the right direction, I believe. Particularly given the high level of trust that is required for both parole and prison leave to be granted to an inmate.

Electronic Monitoring makes it all the more possible to give an inmate a chance at life once again, whilst still ensuring safety and security. Prison leave in particular, may very well grant inmates the possibility to enroll in employment, in an educational course, attend family emergencies or even health-related appointments during their prison sentence while still remaining under constant supervision of the authorities concerned. It is therefore extremely evident that such a possibility can in fact allow for prisoners to lead a reformative journey towards life in society once their sentences are up. Programs which allow inmates to work in the community and save up funds for after release can be created. A great way to ensure that prisoners do not fall into the cycle of criminality all over again once released. Having funds to rely on and a career to look forward to.

The list of possibilities is frankly – endless

It is also high time that we face reality as it truly is. Overcrowding at CCF is our reality, as Maltese. A harsh one that we do not think about enough. On the 27th November 2020, the Maltese prison reached the highest number of residents there ever was in this facility – 908 residents. Each of these residents costs the state €90.00 daily – a sum which can be easily avoided should alternative punishments to imprisonment, as is Electronic Monitoring, be introduced. This is not about money. Or overcrowding per se. It is about Reform. Rehabilitation. And Crime Prevention. These cannot be achieved in an environment so tedious and stressed out merely due to space restrictions. Sure, we can build a new facility – but isn’t that a short-term problem solver? Rather, we should attack the matter to the core – and prevent crime from even taking place in the first place. Rehabilitation does that. Reformation of prisoners does that. It prevents crime. It prevents second-time offenders. Let that be our focus towards a reality less punitive, less crowded and more correctional.

Having said all this, I do have questions and recommendations for this White Paper. As should all of us as responsible and involved citizens.

Firstly – Schedule II of this White Paper proposes that those persons found guilty of not paying maintenance should not have the possibility of Electronic Monitoring. My first instinct would be to fully agree with such a proposition. But I cannot. We are taught that the law, the courts and each and every authority must keep at the crux of every matter – the best interest of a child. How is placing a parent in prison for not paying maintenance keeping the best interest of a child in mind? Mind you – this does not mean that whoever fails to pay maintenance should go unpunished. Absolutely not. However, placing a parent in prison will not solve anything for that child. Nothing at all. Electronic Monitoring would still be a deterrent, and this way, the parent who continuously avoids his or her responsibility to pay such maintenance, cannot use being in prison as an excuse not to pay. Thus, Electronic Monitoring should in actual fact be removed from Schedule II of this proposed Act.

Secondly – When it comes to potential breaches of an Electronic Monitoring Order, the law remains unclear. The proposed law provides a list of potential breaches by way of example however indicates that there may be further breaches which can also be deemed as such. In light of this – IF the Order is revoked, will there be the right to Appeal from such a decision? To the Courts, the Parole Board or the Prison officials? Will there be any time limit for such appeal to be lodged?

Thirdly – Who will contribute to the costs of Electronic Monitoring? Will it be the state in all cases? Or will the person wearing such monitor have to contribute to costs? What happens should the person in question not be able to afford this monitor? This question arises after research made regarding the modes in which costs are borne beyond our shores, in other jurisdictions. (See countries such as Belgium, UK and Wales, South Korea and the Netherlands).

Fourthly – Article 4(1) of the proposed Regulations (LN XX of 2021) states that should the authorities, upon suspicion of breach, fail to reach/contact the person serving a Monitoring Order within 10 minutes of attempts, the authorities reserve the right to arrest him or her immediately. Such a provision, as specific and authoritative, may prove controversial and time consuming – for nothing. Ten minutes is, in my view, too little to determine the arrest of a person there and then. This will lead to multiple failed or missed calls resulting in unnecessary arrests. Thus, these ten minutes should be reviewed and amended accordingly.

I look forward to the implementation of a system which, if administered properly and used beneficially, can change the local criminal justice system completely. As has happened in all jurisdictions that attempted this radical change.

Who knows? Perhaps in the near future, this system can be implemented and embedded into our Bail laws, Probation Orders, Suspended Sentences and House Arrests. After all, 33.9% of our residents currently at CCF are in fact pre-trial detainees and the Presumption of Innocence is still very much a thing – thankfully!

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