Electronic Monitoring in the Criminal Justice System through the use of electronic monitoring bracelets
Prison overcrowding in Panama has become a major problem that is of significant concern to the country's authorities and, hence, the Government of Panama has paid close attention to prison reform and has also actively sought alternatives to imprisonment which both allow for the decrease in prison overcrowding, increased opportunities for social reintegration and the fulfillment of basic human rights not naturally restricted by imprisonment.
Panama is currently preparing for drastic changes in its penitentiary system as it embarks on the implementation of the Accusatory Penal System. In this context, the use of the electronic monitoring bracelet has been identified as a key technological tool in this process of change, increasing the possibilities for the protection of victims of crime with the use of various forms of custody.
In 2010, in an effort to provide support in strengthening the organization, execution and extended use of electronic bracelets in Panama that had been piloted by the Government, as well as to complement this alternative to imprisonment with other alternatives, UNODC ROPAN launched the initiative entitled "Increasing the Capacity for Prison Reform in Panama through Alternatives to Imprisonment: Telematic tracking system using the electronic monitoring bracelet" (PANT37). In an effort to prevent and diminish overcrowding in prisons, this programme will expand the use of the electronic bracelet for defined prison populations in Panama, as well as introduce new aspects so as to strengthen the institutional framework for the development and implementation of alternatives to imprisonment. These aspects include a review of the legal framework; the design and validation of protocols, methodologies and guidelines so as to reproduce training at different levels; and the establishment of drug detection and treatment services for the beneficiaries of the bracelet programme. In 2012, in light of the priority placed by Panama on the development of alternatives to imprisonment, the Attorney General's Office formulated the implementation of a Pilot Plan for the evaluation of the use of new control mechanisms that guaranteed the success of the precautionary measures and sentences.
This initiative has been made possible thanks to the different laws that the Government of Panama has so far ratified. Article 224 No. 9 of the Penal Code, for example, makes specific reference to, and supports the use of electronic trackers. Article 333 No.2 focuses specifically on the measures that improve the capacity to protect the victims of domestic violence, crimes against sexual freedom, the mistreatment of minors, personal injuries and human trafficking. The electronic monitoring bracelet is considered as one of the measures that can be taken in an effort to protect victims from these crimes and the harm inflicted upon them by their aggressors. In this context, the aggressor can be ordered by the court to wear the electronic monitoring bracelet while the victim carries a receptor. If the aggressor enters within 200 metres of the victim, violating legal agreements, he or she may be incarcerated for up to 30 days. UNODC ROPAN also facilitates technical assistance in the process of elaboration and writing of various reforms of this law, which is carried out by an inter-institutional commission composed of the Judicial Organ, the 'Public Ministry and the Ministry of the Government.
The use of this method is fundamentally an alternative to custodial measures and seeks to guarantee the fulfillment of certain short sentences or non-custodial measures. The individual is integrated into the electronic monitoring system and with the installation of the adequate electronic monitoring mechanisms. This system offers the justice administration secure information on the presence of the beneficiary, or lack thereof, in the predetermined place within the fixed scheduled of the proposed injunction. These electronic vigilance methods are alternatives that present various advantages for the judicial and penitentiary systems. Given the low implementation and maintenance costs, access to the technology is easily facilitated and, by serving to prevent overpopulation in prisons, this technology in turn helps to ensure that human rights standards for prisoners are met. The beneficiary is allowed to remain in his or her social or work environment; the option of retaining a job is made available; the de-socializing effects of imprisonment are avoided; and furthermore, sufficient control that would allow for social defense could be exercised.
Given the importance of the role of technology in our day to day social reality, the implementation of technological control systems has become inevitable, and it can be assured that there are great possibilities for success for those measures that allow for increased efficiency while maintaining affordable costs.
Finally, the project is designed to allow for the evolution and incorporation of various elements aimed at countering corruption and promoting accountability and transparency, without which the efficiency of the programme will be hampered. An exchange of experiences with Mexico is also foreseen, and the project may lead to the promotion of this practice in other Central American countries.
UNODC ROPAN seeks to ensure that on completion of this programme, the use of electronic bracelet will have been validated and proven as a sustainable and effective alternative to imprisonment and that will be available to a larger number of prison inmates in Panama.