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Prisoners to stay at home, guarded by a bracelet

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In the Czech Republic it will soon be possible to be in prison and still work, raise children and sleep in your own bed.

Those who have committed less serious crimes, such as theft or accidents caused by reckless driving, will be able to serve their sentence in home confinement. The state recently decided that a private company will help guard prisoners in home confinement through special electronic bracelets that set off an alarm if the prisoner tries to leave his house.

The Justice Ministry is preparing a competition to select the company that would operate the system. It will not be easy. According to estimates, in the next few years there could be as many as 4,000 home confined prisoners.

Bracelets from a company

Home confinement in the Czech Republic will probably work the same way as in the United States, where a similar system has been in place for 25 years.

The prisoners will be able to normally go to work and maybe even do their shopping or stop off for a beer.

The person will need to remain at home every day between 8pm and 5am, including weekends, holidays and vacations. “For some people such a routine might be very unpleasant,” says Justice Minister Jří Pospíšil.

The Czech ministry could have chosen from a number of options on how to guard the prisoners, including whether administrators will check on the prisoners by phone or in person.

In the end, the ministry selected the most modern method: Prisoners will need to wear a bracelet at all times that transmits a signal. A receptor installed in the prisoner’s apartment will be able to tell when the person is at home and when he is not. As soon as, he is out for too long or at the wrong time, it will send a signal to the operator, that is, the company in charge of this technology.

The company will first try to call the prisoner, to ensure that the technology is not faulty. Only if the prisoner is unreachable, state administrators will step in. The prisoner will then face a serious threat of being sent to a regular prison.

The ministry does not want to estimate yet how much the system will cost. For this year, it has earmarked CZK 70 million. Unofficial estimates talk about hundreds of millions of crowns needed to cover the total costs of operating the system. The ministry wants to save money by “buying” the surveillance of prisoners from a private company. The state will not have to buy the bracelets and the transmitters; this will belong to the company. Of course, not everyone will be able to serve his prison sentence at home.

Firstly, it will not apply to those convicted of very serious crimes. And also, the court will decide on a per case basis whether home confinement is the more suitable option. This means a repeat offender will have a much lower chance of serving his sentence in home confinement than a first-time offender, for example, who killed someone in a car accident, admitted his guilt and paid compensation to the victims.

“In this country there persists the notion that prison is always the best form of punishment, but this is an old-fashioned way of thinking about it,” says Justice Pave Šámal, a judge with the Highest Court and the main author of the criminal code.

Why home? It’s inexpensive

More and more European countries are introducing the option of home confinement. Poland is the most recent example. It is not difficult to see why: A prisoner fed and clothed by the state, confined in a prison that must be built, then maintained and guarded is very expensive.

On average, a prisoner in the Czech Republic costs the state CZK 870 a day. In home confinement the cost would be around CZK 300. In some countries, home confinement has helped shave off as much as 80% of the costs of the prison system.

Justice Robert Fremr, a judge with the Highest Court, first encountered home confinement in Canada in the 1990s.

“The prisoners themselves were interested in this type of sentence because it meant they could stay with their families and keep working,” says Fremr.

Experts point to another advantage: Prisons are places where people can easily acquire a criminal life style, learning from other prisoners, for instance, how to break into a locked apartment. Home confinement could help ensure that prisoners do not commit crimes immediately after release.

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