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Research to explore strategies for monitoring offenders

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Alberta Justice will fund research to evaluate the effectiveness of using GPS technology to monitor offenders in the community. The interdisciplinary research project will involve researchers in sociology, economics and geomatics engineering.

“The ultimate goal here is to determine if this technology, when used properly, can help keep Alberta communities safe,” said Minister of Justice and Attorney General Alison Redford. “We need to test the limitations of the technology against the benefit to Albertans.”

“This research will help us to answer questions about how this evolving technology may serve as another tool to further enhance the supervision of offenders in our communities,” said Frank Oberle, Solicitor General and Minister of Public Security. “We want to ensure police and our correctional services have the most effective tools possible as they manage offenders and work to keep our communities safe.”

The joint research project, a partnership between the Government of Alberta and the University of Calgary, will assess the potential of Global Positioning System Electronic Monitoring (GPS-EM) as an additional law enforcement tool for monitoring offenders. Funding for the $1-million, three-year project is being provided under the Alberta government’s Safe Communities initiative.

The research project will include gathering data from police and corrections agencies on offenders under surveillance or supervision. Currently, Alberta Correctional Services uses Radio Frequency Electronic Monitoring (RF-EM) units to monitor curfews, and the Calgary Police Service uses a small number of GPS-EM units. This project will make additional units available to aid the work of the Calgary Police Service’s High Risk Offender Program in monitoring a number of medium and high-risk offenders, including sex offenders, released after serving full sentences and who are deemed at a high risk to reoffend. There will also be an effort to provide similar opportunities for the Edmonton Police Service High Risk Unit.

The Calgary Police Service welcomes the research that will allow them to monitor offenders with more accuracy. “Unlike standard electronic monitoring, GPS tracks people in real time, by longitude, latitude and even speed. When you can get this real time information on people proven to be a risk to the community, it gives us another great tool to improve public safety,” says Chief Rick Hanson.

In addition, the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter Society, the RCMP and community partners in Red Deer are working closely with the researchers to implement a pilot project using GPS-EM equipment with domestic violence offenders deemed low enough risk to be sentenced to community sentences by the courts. If the research shows positive results, the pilot project may be expanded to other levels of offenders and to other police agencies.

Researchers will use the data to evaluate the effectiveness of the technology as it applies to offender monitoring strategies in Alberta. The University of Calgary research team also plans to meet with the Correctional Service Canada team to review the results of the federal pilot project.

“We need to study the GPS technology itself to develop the most effective system, as well as the impact GPS monitoring has on offender behaviour during and after monitoring,” says Erin Gibbs van Brunschot, professor of sociology and lead researcher on the project. “In doing so, we will consider the offender’s history, type of offense committed, whether they are in a rural or urban community, and legislation to determine where, how and for what kinds of offenders GPS-EM can contribute most effectively to an offender management strategy.”