When Senegal starts using electronic tag bracelets for people facing trial next year, it would become the second country on the continent after South Africa to implement a move that will deal with overcrowding at correctional facilities.
“The technical procedures have been completed and the process will be launched soon,” said Senegal’s Justice Minister Ismaila Madior Fall without giving details on the modalities of setting up the electronic bracelets system.
Human rights organizations like Amnesty International have welcomed the idea though issues have been raised about how effective the system would be in dealing with problems of long detentions of convicted inmates.
Of the 10,562 inmates in Senegalese prisons, nearly half, 4,804, are in pretrial detention, according to figures by the media.
Electronic tagging, a form of surveillance which uses an electronic device, is fitted to the person largely in the form of an ankle monitor which is used for people who have been sentenced to electronic monitoring by a court or are required to wear a tag upon release from prison.
If the device is based on GPS technology, it is often attached to a person by law enforcement agencies, judicial authorities or private monitoring services companies with the aim of tracking the wearer’s location wherever there is the satellite signal to do so.
Electronic monitoring tags can be also used in combination with curfews to “confine defendants or offenders to their home as a condition of bail, as a stand-alone order or as a form of early release from prison”.
For more than two decades, this system of electronic tagging of prisoners has been technically available in countries such as Britain, Australia, Singapore, North America and Western Europe.
In Africa, South Africa began a pilot project of electronic monitoring in March 2012, involving 150 offenders, mostly prisoners serving life terms. The project was aimed at reducing overcrowding in prisons in South Africa and reducing the taxpayer’s burden on correctional facilities.
A control room at the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) in Pretoria subsequently began monitoring offenders in the pilot programme through ankle bracelets with GPS communication and tracking technologies.
The monitoring equipment attached to offenders mainly comprises a transmitter and receiver which can be integrated into one piece or separated into two pieces. As soon as an offender violates his or her curfew, attempts to remove the bracelet, or if they move outside their geographical restrictions, as per their parole conditions, officials are immediately notified.
The DCS further began engaging with the judiciary to suggest electronic monitoring as an alternative form of sentencing.
“The DCS has been engaging with other departments in the justice, crime prevention, safety and security cluster for purposes of considering electronic monitoring as a condition for release,” the DCS spokesperson Logan Maistry said in 2014.
In spite of being in use already, some questions have been raised about the cost of the project as well as its efficiency.
Meanwhile, Kelly Gillespie, an anthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg hailed the electronic monitoring project believing that placing young people in prison formally got them closer to gang structures.
“When they go to prison, they become deeply entrenched in those gangs. Merely throwing young offenders in prison is ineffective,” Gillespie said.