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On Tuesday,Minister of Justice Hubert Volney announced a plan to fit domestic abuse offenders with electronic monitoring systems to track their whereabouts. The minister offered this as one of the ways that the Government would leverage the Electronic Monitoring Bill,which he was piloting in the Senate. Minister Volney positioned the plan at the nexus of a renewed emphasis on reducing domestic violence in Trinidad and Tobago and strategies to reduce prison overcrowding and improve the quality of life for domestic violence victims. These are noble goals, but they will demand a lot more than just an electronic bracelet to ensure success. The simple truth is that the average police officer working in today’s police station is operating in a technology-starved environment.
The jump from where we are now to the halcyon vision of the Justice Minister is considerable and will demand a review of the current realities. In November 2011, activist and chairman of Advocates of Safe Parenthood: Improving Reproductive Equity (ASPIRE), attorney Lynette Seebaran–Suite argued that deaths because of domestic violence and the continuing cycle of violence to which women were exposed, and often willing to return to, deserved specific and ongoing focus and action. Speaking on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women,Seebaran-Suite asked,“Why are we in Trinidad and Tobago in 2010 still having to subject ourselves to the spectacle of our women being killed and our children being killed in this kind of way?”
The question remains relevant and, unfortunately, unanswered. Minister Volney’s plan is admirably forward looking, but skips over some basic implementations that are desperately needed in our law enforcement system. Building computer and data-processing literacy among police officers as part of a strategy of improving technology adoption in the police service is necessary and long overdue, but there remain fundamental issues to be addressed in the management of domestic abuse situations, and the effective synergy of officers and the social services professionals who should be supporting their efforts. If Minister Volney’s goal is to reduce the number of prisoners currently in the prison system,he should rethink what happens to young and first-time offenders for minor and victimless crimes.
There are entirely too many stories of people going to jail for marijuana possession or stealing food. Shouldn’t these cases be managed through restitution and restorative justice,which might keep these amateur offenders from being groomed into professional criminals, during even short stays in prison? The Justice Minister also suggests that domestic abusers won’t be considered violent offenders, and while the spirit of his statement is clear, in practice, there are shadings there that he might wish to reconsider.
An abusive spouse may not be a gun-wielding robber or a violent rapist, but in the context of the home and behind closed doors, such acts of mistreatment may be even more sustained and damaging. Just because an abuser hasn’t killed or maimed their partner doesn’t mean that the law should assume that established patterns of violence won’t escalate. The monitoring of persons guilty of domestic abuse or under restraining orders will demand a significant leap in police capability. Such systems have faltered in developed countries where training has been insufficient and GPS coverage has not been of high quality.Police response times are also critical to the success of these systems. It’s a deterrent that’s only as good as the policing that backs it up, and local law enforcement has some way to go in building confidence in that regard. Electronic tagging may be a great solution for the Ministry of Justice that Minister Volney imagines for the future, but the real world needs more technology literacy in police stations, and more engagement with social services right now, on the street, actively protecting people in abusive situations.
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