Parliamentarians began debate Monday on the Government’s Bill to amend the country’s Penal Code to allow for electronic monitoring of convicts and persons on bail awaiting trial; a revolutionary provision described as an effective weapon in the fight against crime in The Bahamas.

The Bill is the third of four Bills brought forward by the Government as part of its multi-faceted response to crime in The Bahamas.

In moving debate on the Bill, Education Minister the Hon. Carl Bethel said, “It is foreshadowed that electronic monitoring will be an additional and effective weapon in the fight against crime, a tool which balances appropriately the liberty or freedom of the individual with the need for society to be protected to the extent possible from persons who might be tempted to abuse their freedom to commit further criminal offences.”

Where a person is convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment of three years and upwards, the Bill gives the court the power to order that a convict be subject to electronic monitoring for a further period of up to five years after his release from prison on the expiration of his prison sentence.

Further, if the convict applies to the court, and the prosecution consents, the Bill gives the court the power to order that any part of the term of imprisonment might in effect be remitted, and the person released subject to electronic monitoring.

Where a person is convicted of an offence punishable with imprisonment for a period of three years or less the court, through the Bill, may if it thinks fit in place of any term of imprisonment or a part of such term, order that the person be released and subjected to electronic monitoring.

And where a person is granted bail in respect of a charge of commission of a serious criminal offence punishable by imprisonment for three years or more, the court may, through the Bill, order that a condition of bail is that the person be subjected to electronic monitoring.

“A person monitored electronically must report to the police at least once a month, notify the police of any change of address, and if convicted of a sexual offence under the sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act must notify the police of any change in his workplace, and of his participation in any educational, sporting civic or other (social) activities which he may become involved in,” Minister Bethel advised.

Touting the modern technological usefulness of electronic monitoring, the Minister pointed out that, “All movements of the person who is monitored can be tracked, in the same way that the radio signal of a cell phone can be tracked.

“The added GPS features greatly contribute to the possibility of providing a real disincentive for the monitored person to commit any further crimes, since the electronic signal recorded on the GPS system could place him at the scene of any other crime that he might have been tempted to commit.”

Citing the re-introduction of electronic monitoring in the United Kingdom in 1995, Minister Bethel indicated that the system could now cost less than the housing and feeding of a prisoner.

“This was not always the case, and in the U.K. the first system of electronic monitoring in 1989 had to be abandoned after 5 ½ months,” he noted. “In 1995 the system was re-introduced, with greater efficiency, and it is now proven that electronic monitoring in the U.K. saves £70.00 per day (about $120.00) below the cost of keeping a person in prison.

“That can be an enormous cost savings, and would allow for scarce financial resources to be used to make further improvements to the (country’s) prison.”

The Minister said with regard to electronic monitoring that it is also proven that recidivism has been reduced due to the fact that people can spend time with their families, work, obtain an education and change their lives while on supervised release, subject to electronic monitoring.

The social cost of rehabilitation of criminals, he added, is also lessened considerably to the extent that convicts are able to contribute towards their own rehabilitation, while on supervised and monitored release.

“Prisoners who are still in prison, but who are on the work programme, can also be monitored during those hours when they are outside of the prison walls,” Minister Bethel added.

“The implementation of this system has much to recommend it, and few drawbacks. Of course, the greatest drawback is that the system is not absolutely foolproof, although it is now extremely efficient. Mere electronic monitoring alone cannot guarantee that an offender will not and cannot commit another crime. That possibility always exists; but it is now generally accepted that the positive aspects of such a system far outweigh the negatives.”

Commending the Government for what he called an important step in the right direction, Minister Bethel said, “together with the other initiatives being introduced by the Government we hope to begin to roll back the surging tide of crime, but it is an effort that requires the full and proactive support and participation of all of Bahamian society.”