There is more to the anklet than home detention of offenders. The Stichting Verslavingsreclassering GGZ (Addiction Care Services), SVG, is going to use the bracelet to monitor alcohol intake.

“In the gym, especially while taking a shower: everyone looks. But no one dares ask you anything”. Karin Klaassen, policy advisor with SVG, has been wearing an electronic anklet for a week. A trouser leg hardly covers it, let alone a panty hose or boots. That is why she does not wear skirts.

Klaassen is one of the twelve volunteers who, since January 23rd, have been testing a new concept for a period of ten days: electronic monitoring of alcohol use. Every half hour the electronic bracelet around her ankle vibrates. Through a membrane perspiration of the skin is checked for body temperature and blood alcohol content. The system uploads the data and three times a day they are sent to an emergency room.

`Thus a continuous picture of someone´s blood alcohol content is established´, says Edwin ten Holte, managing director of SVG. ‘It is complementary to the breathalyzer and blood test. We try to change the behaviour of addicts, but have to know first how serious the problem is. You simply cannot take blood and breathalyzer tests all the time.´

His organization is the first in Europe to want to work with the monitoring system. The anklet has been used in the US for quite some time for offenders while under the influence of alcohol. Managing director Ten Holte sincerely hopes that, within due time The Netherlands will accept the ankle bracelet in criminal law; lobbying with Mr Teeven, Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice Department) has already begun. The bracelet fits in his policy of more probationary punishment plus treatment instead of incarceration, which has been shown to be scarcely effective.

Many addicts avoid care, they do not consider their irritant behaviour and aggression as problematic’, the managing director says. ‘Penal law can be a deterrent: you either undergo treatment or you have to go to prison.’

In two ways the anklet reduces the use of alcohol: the wearer drinks less, because he knows he is being monitored and the rehabilitation centre is informed when the user of alcohol oversteps the alcohol level agreed on beforehand. ‘Thus, for example, it is made possible for domestic violence offenders to stay within their families. Most of the times these people are only violent when under the influence.’

The twelve testers are of various stock. On purpose participants were selected of different age, gender, drinking habits and physique, both light and heavy. The anklet is seen as stigmatizing, all the more reason for judges to use it as a punishment, Ten Holte says. ‘Many people think an anklet like this is too mild a punishment, but they underestimate.’

Tester and system specialist Farida Lamrini twittered, ‘Shopping with an ankle bracelet = no fun. Sales lady sees bracelet. In spite of my explanation she keeps following me in the shop. # Shame’.

Karin Klaassen is surprised about the accuracy of the system. ‘After the bracelet had been put on, I had a Westmalle Double that night. The next day the system duly reported, ‘Alcohol was being detected’. One beer only. It was almost uncanny.’

The participants are required to keep a diary of what and how much they eat and drink. These results are compared to those of the electronic bracelet to check its accuracy and to see how fast the equipment registers changes in the blood alcohol content of the participants.

If everything goes well, addiction care services hope to have a plan together before the summer, how best to use the electronic monitoring system within their system of after-care monitoring. Ten Holte thinks that the bracelet should already play a role with first offenders whose crimes are directly linked to excessive drinking. ‘Then you can decide much sooner whether a conditional punishment with compulsory treatment is an option. These days addicted youngsters are often only then treated after having made a criminal career.’

Also with the increasing problem of violence during evenings out the electronic bracelet could be an effective means, says Ten Holte. An alcohol detecting bracelet combined with a navigational system is already in the making. Such a bracelet would allow for both the detection of consumption of alcohol as well as monitoring someone’s whereabouts.

According to Ten Holte there are people in the United States who do not want to part with their bracelets, because they do not trust themselves without one.

As the electronic surveillance market is in full swing, the equipment is never bought but always rented by addiction care services, ‘so that we always dispose over the latest gadgets’. The expense is dependent on the time the bracelet is worn: ‘if we hook up a person for a weekend, it will set us back around 300 to 400 Euros, but if it is used for more than a month, it will cost 40 Euros per day in technical service and emergency room personnel’.

The total budget should show a profit with the bracelets. Ten Holte, ‘Detention per offender is 90,000 Euros annually. Our surveillance is 7,000 Euros on a yearly basis. That is quite a few ankle bracelets.’

TWO REPORTING SYSTEMS

Via the digital counter judges and prosecutors can order and impose electronic ankle bracelets with a single push of the button. There are two types of electronic bracelets: ‘ordinary reporting system for a location ban (e.g. home detention) and bracelets with an in-built navigation system for offenders with an environmental ban. Trespassing means reporting to rehabilitation and imprisonment as a consequence. However, this is seldom the case.

In The Netherlands, on a daily basis, around 220 offenders are equipped with an electronic monitoring system. In 2012 there were in total 1,162 offenders with bracelets, whereas about 15,000 suspects and detainees were locked up in prison. A day’s detention costs 217 Euros, an electronic bracelet with surveillance 50 to 70 Euros per day.

Author: Wil Thijssen, for de Volkskrant

Translation: Haye van den Oever

This article was originally published in the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant on 31/01/2014; publication on this website by courtesy of de Volkskrant


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