Electronic handcuffs were first used in Israel five years ago. At the time, they were widely welcomed as a humane alternative to keeping suspects in custody or incarcerating offenders in packed, violent prisons.
Since then, thousands of detainees awaiting rulings, or inmates released under court supervision, have been released under restrictions. They cannot leave the vicinity of their homes, and should they do so, the cuff attached to their leg notifies an electronic surveillance system.
The project was hailed as a technological innovation that could mitigate the horrendous overcrowding of prisons and let offenders return to family life, rather than keep them behind bars with violent prisoners likely to lead them deeper into crime. Economic factors were also paramount: monitoring a person by means of an electronic cuff costs the state NIS 81 a day, compared to NIS 230 per day in jail.
As Liel Kyzer revealed in an investigative report in Friday's Week's End supplement in Hebrew, the new technology went live without the necessary legal and administrative framework. The project had no clear guidelines for who would be included, and ultimately allowed both light offenders and hardened felons like rapists, murderers and crime bosses to be released under restrictions.
It's no wonder dangerous criminals have exploited their house arrest, committing crimes close to their home, leaving the restricted area or trying to flee the country altogether. Existing legislation does not enable detainees who violated the terms of their release to be sent back to jail quickly.
Moreover, concessionaires running the program have been unwilling to enter Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem or isolated areas elsewhere, and in some cases detainees have had to cover part of the expenses out of their own pockets.
The lesson to be learned from the electronic cuff program is that it could benefit from proper regulation and management, and more generally, that new technology doesn't always solve deeper-rooted problems.
Reducing crowding in jails and rehabilitating prisoners are worthy goals. But the operational aspects of the program must be brought in line with principles, first and foremost by setting clearer regulations for its implementation.
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