Editorial: A different sort of ankle-biter

Lindsay Lohan
Lindsay Lohan

They needn't beat themselves up about it, and most wouldn't anyway, but many people out there are a tad more receptive to celebrity news than to what they might learn from the science or technology pages.

So if there's tinkle of familiarity about the news that the Cabinet has green-lit the introduction of alcohol-monitoring bracelets for high-risk offenders or bailees in the community, it's likely the recognition comes courtesy of Lindsay Lohan.

To give her her fuller title, "troubled actress Lindsay Lohan".

Her court-ordered and not especially hi-tech gizmo became a fashion accessory akin to a neckful of diamonds - hardly something the rank and file were expecting to wear themselves anytime soon, but still of interest.

Provided the devices work as intended, they promise to become a useful extension to the home detention bracelets that have been in use since 1999 and the longer-leash GPS tracking system that has been in use for a small number of offenders for the past year.

Soon enough other drug-monitoring devices will be added like charms to the electronic bracelets. (Doubtless there's mounting libertarian concern that the day's not far off when there will be some sort of collar for smokers.)

Our police and justice system needs the ability to impose restrictions on some people's movements and substance intakes, short of the more severe, inflexible and financially ruinous cost of banging them up in a cell.

The home-detention bracelets in use so far have been free of substantial scandal on the basis of malfunction or injustice, though nobody's calling them perfect. Their reliability has been likened to that of cellphones, though authorities are quick to reassure that any alert triggered on that system was not evidence, on its own, of a breach and that further investigation is always needed.

Right now there are roughly 5000 people who have alcohol-related conditions as part of their bail, home detention or community-based sentences. The great majority of these people are not ankled-up and there's still a reliance on, for instance, "just-checking" visits from Corrections officers. Hardly efficient.

We should not be too bedazzled by the smarts of the alcohol bracelets that will be initially applied to 475 people judged the highest risk of breaching their alcohol bans.

For one thing, even as we note that Corrections Minister Anne Tolley maintains that the whole point is deterring people from offending, the booze bracelets are potentially rather sluggish.

They detect alcohol from the 1 per cent of what we drink that exits through our pores and send the information to a central monitoring system. But the blessed things only provide these readings once every 24 hours.

In cases of booze-fuelled offending this could well be distressingly after the event. Real-time monitoring would be much better.

The Government is aware of this, and the technology is likely to improve soon.

The Southland Times