Home detention monitors 'antiquated'

JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Last updated 12:19 26/01/2013

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The Department of Corrections is staying silent after limitations in the "antiquated" technology used to monitor offenders on home detention were exposed in court.

The situation has been criticised by a judge and an experienced Manawatu lawyer, who are struggling to understand why it cannot be resolved.

Dairy farmer Rua Tapu Mitchell, 23, was to be sentenced in the Palmerston North District Court this week on charges on possessing cannabis and cannabis oil for supply, possessing methamphetamine for supply and driving while suspended.

Judge Gerard Lynch indicated he would sentence Mitchell to home detention and the matter has been put off until next month to allow that to be assessed by Corrections probation officers and representatives of the electronic monitoring company.

It is proposed Mitchell would live and work on a Himatangi dairy farm, but this would be scuppered if the electronic monitoring technology does not work there, leaving Mitchell jobless.

Offenders on home detention can be allowed to continue work and it would not be a problem in less remote locations.

But only the most serious sex offenders can be monitored using GPS technology. Older signal-based anklets are all that is available for those on other electronically monitored punishment.

A Corrections spokeswoman said the department could not make even general comments about that while Mitchell was awaiting sentence.

In court, Judge Lynch could not understand why better technology was not more widely available.

"All electronic monitoring these days ought to be by GPS," he said.

"You can buy a GPS from Dick Smith for a couple of hundred dollars."

The judge said it was "odd" that not all offenders could be monitored using the improved technology and ordered Corrections to see if a GPS was available for Mitchell.

Mitchell's lawyer, Peter Coles, said employment would allow people like his client to move away from his old associates and gain the independence that goes with earning.

"In the current economic and social climate, especially for young people, having a job can make a huge difference to their self-esteem and in terms of offending," Mr Coles said.

"If people are prevented from taking on employment or returning to employment simply because their place of employment can't be monitored due to the monitoring company or the community probation electing to retain an antiquated system, then you're getting an unfairness in sentencing.

"Mitchell's case is a classic example of someone who was involved in serious offending at a time when he was unemployed and he had no apparent direction."

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If the technology did not let Mitchell stay in Himatangi he would effectively be imprisoned in somebody else's house, Mr Coles said.

Citing "security reasons" the Corrections spokeswoman said she was unable to say who provides electronic monitoring services and if there was anything in the provider's contract about wider use of GPS.

- Manawatu Standard

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