Offenders' electronic monitoring underway in Latvia

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In July, the government greenlighted amendments that allow for electronically monitoring offenders. The program is underway, with 33 people now wearing electronic tagging devices around their ankles. Despite that the participants' daily routine is strictly limited, a total of 131 offenders have applied for parole under the new program, reported Latvian Radio Monday.

The tag looks like a black plastic watch and is worn a little above the ankle. It cannot be removed; if someone tries to do so, the monitoring services are alarmed. 

Those granted parole under the monitoring program leave prison without the tagging device. They have to attend the probation service within three days, and an official accompanies them to their home where the device is installed.

"Electronic monitoring practically means you have to stay in your home for 24 hours, and you can only leave for the activities and goals that have been coordinated with the State Probation Service [..]," said the head of the State Probation Service Mihails Papsujevičs.

He said that the principle of the device is similar to that of a radio phone - the device signals the monitoring center about whether the offender is at home. The allowed range is determined by the dimensions of the place of residence.

If the wearer leaves the designated range, the signal disappears. If the leave has not been coordinated, the center workers call the offender's mobile phone.

Dina Mūrniece, a representative of the service, said that while wearers are optimistic at first, they change their mind when there's interference and they receive calls at night, as they're being monitored 24 hours a day.

"It is difficult to understand that here's the door, you are able to go outside but not allowed to. There's the dog outside, but you can only feed it at arranged times," she said.

The monitoring period can last for up to a year, during which the outdoor activities of a person have to be coordinated with the probation service. Even then the probation service can check whether the persons are where they claimed they'll be.

If a person has broken parole terms, it can result in an infraction, and after two infractions the service has to turn to court for cancelling the parole. Alcohol is off-limits too, and three have already received an infraction in connection to that. One other had left the OK-range of the parole.

Enrolling in an electronic tagging program shortens the sentence significantly. For example, regular parole for a crime with a three-year term is available after a year and a half, while it's available within a year in the case of electronic tagging. 

The society benefits not only in that maintaining the tags is cheaper than imprisonment, but also, as the probation service said, in that the offenders are more gradually lead from imprisonment to a less-controlled and more orderly life.

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