Alternative punishment complicated by lack of technology

As of January 1 the law enables Czech judges to mete out an alternative form of punishment to light offenders: house arrest. It was to have been an easy solution to the problem of overcrowded prisons, but a lack of functional electronic bracelets has given the Justice Ministry a new headache.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
On paper the plan appeared foolproof: electronic tagging was to be introduced simultaneously with the delivery of the respective technology. The pressure on overcrowded prisons would decrease and the state would save money. However the plan went badly awry when the Justice Ministry waited too long to announce a tender for a company that would operate the system – meaning that the electronic bracelets are currently unusable.

In an effort to save face, the ministry promptly took on another 90 employees who will be expected to keep the prisoners under surveillance by checking-up on them several times a week. Critics call this solution an expensive farce and Pavel Šterna, who heads the ministry’s probation department, admits it is not overly reliable.

“Yes, I must confirm that at this point we can only provide random checks on house prisoners, not the 24 hour surveillance planned. We have bought 69 new vehicles to that effect – so that inspectors in every region are able to get round faster and make these random checks in the field.”

Marek Görges
Due to the ministry’s blunder functional electronic tags will not be available until early next year, at best, and for the time being judges are inclined to be skeptical with respect to the ministry’s team of fleet-footed inspectors. Many judges say they don’t expect to apply this alternative form of punishment too often. Deputy Justice Minister Marek Görges remains confident that in spite of the teething problems the institution of house arrest will prove effective in time.

“How far it will be used depends on individual courts, on whether or not they see it as a real alternative. I expect they will be cautious at the outset but in due time, when they see it implemented successfully, I think they will have greater trust in it and apply it more often themselves.”

To date nobody has been sentenced to wear an electronic tag in the Czech Republic. When that happens, his inspector will be ready and waiting.