IoT-based monitoring increasingly offers alternative to prison, says report

Modern GPS technologies are taking the place of older, radio frequency (RF) systems when it comes to the ‘tagging’ of offenders – and that, in turn, could lead to wider use of electronic monitoring programmes, rather than prison sentences, for some. 

According to a report released last week by research company Berg Insight, electronic monitoring (EM) programmes are currently under-used by justice systems in Europe and North America. The number of participants in EM programmes on a daily basis in these regions amounted to just 180,000 in 2016.

“Even though EM has been in use for more than a decade in most countries, it remains relatively rare in the context of European and North American corrections systems,” says the Berg Insight report.

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Prison overcrowding

By way of comparison, the US prison population in the US alone was over 2.2 million in 2013, according to statistics from the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, and in addition, more than 4.7 million were on probation or parole. In the UK, which was recently declared by a Council of Europe study to have the highest prison population in the EU, around 95,629 people were behind bars in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as of September 2015.

Proponents of EM say that these programmes increase offender accountability, reduce recidivism rates and enhance public safety, by providing an additional tool to traditional methods of community supervision.

They also come at a much cheaper cost to governments than incarceration – a point very much in their favour when it comes to offenders who are deemed to pose a relatively low risk to the public and against a general backdrop of prison overcrowding.

Berg Insight is of the opinion that the market for EM equipment and services is in a ‘growth phase’ and one that is set to continue. The market value for EM in Europe, including equipment, software and outsourced services, was €161 million in 2016 and is expected to reach €305 million by 2021. The North American market for EM, meanwhile, is forecast to grow from $ 535 million in 2016 to $ 851 million in 2021.

“Increased use of EM will be mainly driven by further adoption in pre-trial and parole supervision as well as sex offender legislation,” says the report.

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Use of GPS

The use of GPS technology has grown rapidly on the North American market in recent years, say Berg Insight’s analysts: GPS-based devices now account for more than 70 percent of active units used for EM. In Europe, however, the most common forms of EM equipment are still RF [radio frequency] systems used in home detention curfew schemes. That said, the use of GPS is gaining ground in jurisdictions throughout Europe, they add.

GPS data combined with clever analytics open the door to more detailed control that goes beyond the ‘sledgehammer’ approach of simple home detention. In the UK, for example, the Ministry of Justice is trialling GPS tags, fixed to the offender’s ankle and used to enforce exclusion zones such as a particular address, a football ground, or locations such as train stations, airports or city centres. A monitoring centre, staffed 24 hours a day, records the movements of tagged offenders and responds to alerts when rules are breached.

Said Berg Insight analyst Fredrik Stalbrand: “The declining cost of hardware components and cellular connectivity has driven the adoption of GPS-based systems on the North American market in recent years.”

Software, he adds, is likely to play an increasingly important role in determining the winners in this market. “Vendors are increasingly focusing on analytics software development to offer support tools for officers [who] are faced with a growing amount of location data that is generated by the expanding installed base of GPS-based systems.”

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