The Experience of Electronic Monitoring and the Implications for Effective Use

Date01 March 2020
Published date01 March 2020
The Howard Journal Vol59 No 1. March 2020 DOI: 10.1111/hojo.12351
ISSN 2059-1098, pp. 17–43
The Experience of Electronic
Monitoring and the Implications for
Effective Use
Evidence Lead, Chartered and Registered Forensic Psychologist, Her Majesty’s
Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), London
Abstract: Understanding how electronic monitoring (EM) is experienced may helpfully
inform implementation to support effective compliance, crime prevention and rehabili-
tation. This study thematically synthesised the findings of six publications (based on five
empirical studies) on EM experience. Eleven themes describing EM experience were de-
veloped, and from these, six implications for the effective implementation identified. EM
has rehabilitative potential for many (but not all), such as by offering the chance to de-
velop social capital and employment prospects, autonomy and self-sufficiency. It appears
unlikely that EM on its own is enough to bring about compliance beyond the period of
monitoring, or achieve rehabilitation and desistance goals.
Keywords: compliance; desistance; electronic monitoring; rehabilitation
Electronic monitoring (EM) is the use of technology to monitor people
remotely, and is currently employed by the criminal justice systems (CJSs)
of many countries. Insight into how people experience EM is important,
as this can help practitioners and policymakers to better understand how
it can be used most effectively to achieve best outcomes.
Usually EM technology comes in the form of an electronic tag that is
fitted to a person’s ankle. There are three main types, each with differ-
ent capabilities: radio frequency (RF), global positioning system (GPS) and
transdermal alcohol monitoring (sobriety tags). RF tags enable the moni-
toring of someone’s confinement to a specific location, and an alert is raised
if they go out of range. GPS tags track a person’s precise location in almost
real time, and are not specific to an address. Sobriety tags detect alcohol
levels in the wearer’s sweat.1EM can also involve ‘programmed contact sys-
tems’, a computerised device installed on a home telephone line, with calls
made to ensure that the person remains at that location when expected. It
This article is published with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen’s
Printer for Scotland.
2020 Crown copyright. The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice C
2020 John Wiley & Sons
Ltd and The Howard League
The Howard Journal Vol59 No 1. March 2020
ISSN 2059-1098, pp. 17–43
may require voice recognition, video verification, and include an alcohol
breathalyser. This has been used for house arrest in the US.2
Internationally there is varied application of EM in CJSs, including
when it is used and how/if it is implemented alongside other interventions
and services (Belur et al. 2017). For example, depending on the country,
it may be used at the pre-trial stage as a condition of bail, at the sentenc-
ing stage for community or suspended sentence orders (as a curfew re-
quirement), and at the release from custody stage (home detention curfew
(HDC)). It may be used ‘standalone’ with no additional input or services
provided for the person, or additional requirements and supervision may
run alongside.
There is considerable interest in EM technologies and the opportunities
these may present for the effective management of people in the commu-
nity who have been convicted of, or are suspected of committing, a crime
(Hucklesby and Holdsworth 2016). In addition to the potential for using
EM to support compliance with legal obligations while on EM, there is in-
terest in how it can be used to facilitate crime prevention and rehabilitation
in the longer term.
Quantitative research provides an understanding of the impact of EM
on outcomes; however, qualitative research can offer greater insight into
how this impact may occur and the experiences of monitored people can
help to inform how EM might be implemented to best effect. Understand-
ing people’s experiences, and variations in these, may help to explain
differences in the impact EM has for different groups or when used under
different circumstances, which could inform decisions about implemen-
tation and targeting. For example, helping to understand why uncertain
overall or longer-term effects have been reported for EM, but more pos-
itive effects identified during the actual period of monitoring and when
combined with additional interventions and support (Belur et al. 2017;
Danielsson and M¨
a 2012; Graham and McIvor 2015). The focus of
this study is therefore on qualitative EM research, drawing together previ-
ous work on experience to identify common themes that can help to shape
effective practice.
The Experience of EM
Qualitative research on how individuals experience EM reveals a range of
positive and negative consequences. Experience research is emerging but
is far from extensive. Studies from around the world have revealed a mix
of positive and negative experiences (Bales et al. 2010; Cassidy, Harper and
Brown 2005; Deuchar 2011; Lobley and Smith 2000; Martin, Hanrahan
and Bowers 2009; Payne and Gainey 1998, 2004). Their findings include
EM facilitating reflection, relationships, and employment opportunities,
and being preferred to prison, but also feeling punitive, restrictive, and
controlling, having a negative impact on families, and being associated with
shame and feelings of being labelled. While these findings are informative,
many of these previous studies used mixed methodologies, often gave
greater attention to the quantitative part of their studies, used survey or
2020 Crown copyright. The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice C
2020 John Wiley & Sons
Ltd and The Howard League

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