Electronic GPS 'tags' replace prison time

Electronic GPS 'tags' replace prison time

Bracelets allow 24/7 monitoring of felons

Staff at the Electronic Monitoring Centre demonstrate how they track offenders wearing electronic monitoring (EM) bracelets, an alternative to detention. The centre, opened yesterday by Justice Minister Prajin Juntong, will be operational in January. Apichit Jinakul
Staff at the Electronic Monitoring Centre demonstrate how they track offenders wearing electronic monitoring (EM) bracelets, an alternative to detention. The centre, opened yesterday by Justice Minister Prajin Juntong, will be operational in January. Apichit Jinakul

Authorities plan to use 4,000 smartwatch-like electronic monitoring (EM) bracelets for offenders on probation next year in order to keep them out of prison and away from the influence of other, more hardened convicts.

While wearing the devices, the offenders will be under surveillance by officials everywhere they go -- whether domestically or overseas.

EM is an alternative to detention, Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister Prajin Juntong said, adding that one of the benefits is to "reducing the chance that offenders to 'learn' other, more serious forms of illicit behaviour while in prison".

ACM Prajin yesterday presided over a ceremony to open a monitoring centre at the Department of Probation under the Ministry of Justice.

The centre will serve as the eyes of the authorities to keep a close watch on offenders' behaviour.

Designed to work like smartwatches, the tracking bracelets are embedded with Global Positioning System (GPS) chips which stay connected with the centre around the clock.

The devices are water resistant to a depth of two metres and maintain a connection to the centre regardless of what form of transport the offender is using, whether inside or outside Thailand.

The EM cannot be turned off and if the wearer tries to damage or destroy it, the device will vibrate and send a warning signal to the centre.

"We will use electronic tagging with offenders on probation from January," said Prasarn Mahaleetrakul, chief of the Department of Probation.

"Offenders are those who commit a range of crimes from traffic violations to house raids, physical assaults and sexual offences. They will all be assessed for possible electronic monitoring," he said.

Motorists charged with careless driving are another example of those who may be required to wear an EM bracelet, he added.

The department has so far used the them for 246 offenders, Mr Prasarn said.

For these new uses, it will lease all the devices from a private company for use from January 2019 to September 2020.

In the future, ACM Prajin added, the Justice Ministry plans to extend the EM to wrongdoers supervised by Corrections Department as well as by the Juvenile Observation and Protection Department.

EM is part of a broader ministry move to switch to greater "digitisation" in the sector, including in prisons, where camera technology will keep a closer eye on inmates, including those thought to be suicide risks.

Earlier in February, the ministry launched a pilot project using electronic ankle bracelets on offenders instead of awarding prison sentences in 23 courts countrywide in a bid to solve massive overcrowding.

Courts considered whether suspects who were unable to pay a surety bond for parole were suitable for eligibility under the ambitious new project.

A total of 5,000 electronic bracelets at a cost of 80.8 million baht were used for suspects and defendants in criminal cases, according to officials.

Some 600 of the devices were distributed to the Criminal Court in Bangkok and another 600 to Min Buri Court.


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