Nfld. & Labrador

Ankle bracelets and new bail supervision program aimed at cutting jail overpopulation

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons ushered in some changes for adult corrections programs in Newfoundland and Labrador on Thursday.

With a remand rate at 50 per cent, justice minister hopes overcrowded jails will be a thing of the past

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons announced two new programs on Thursday as a way to potentially cut down on overcrowded prisons. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons ushered in some changes for adult corrections programs in Newfoundland and Labrador on Thursday, to the tune of $354,000 supported by a Budget 2019 investment.

The reintroduction of ankle bracelets for monitoring offenders topped his list.

"Electronic monitoring was discussed as a way to protect those exiting violent relationships. The program was discontinued in 2013," Parsons told a courtroom filled with civilians and media inside Atlantic Place in St. John's on Thursday.

"But, I'm here today to tell you that despite the costs associated with the significant advancements in technology, government is reintroducing a device that will allow for enhanced supervision of offenders."    

The program will only be used post-conviction, so after someone has been convicted of a crime.

The devices are being tested across the province in the following months, according to Parsons. The ankle bracelets are equipped with GPS and have the ability to set exclusion zones offenders cannot enter without setting off an alarm — for example, the workplaces and homes of victims.

Bail supervision 

The next program announced, a bail supervision program, goes hand-in-hand with the changes in offender monitoring, Parsons said.

Bail supervision will be used pre-trial, when someone is out on bail or remand.

The bail supervision program will allow judges the option of supervising offenders rather than remanding them. This process will keep offenders out of custody instead of in holding while they await their trial. 

The provincial government is bringing back ankle bracelets with GPS as a way to electronically monitor convicted offenders. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

The remand rate in Newfoundland and Labrador is more than 50 per cent, with many of those people residing at Her Majesty's Penitentiary, further overcrowding the country's oldest prison, Parsons said. 

"The goal of bail supervision is to rehabilitate offenders while reducing the burden on our provincial institutions," he said.

The programs are not for every offender, he said, and remand is still necessary in some cases. The courts will decide who will and will not be eligible for the new programs.

The full implementation of the electronic monitoring program should begin by fall 2019, with coverage everywhere in the province including rural areas, Parsons said.

The government has narrowed the specific device to be used down to two models.

Making a difference for victims

"This could have made a difference to me. I didn't have a lot of confidence in the police force in Labrador City, but this device would have instilled that confidence," said Georgina McGrath, as she recounted her story of an abusive relationship to those present for the announcement.

Paula Sheppard, president of the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women, said electronic monitoring is a useful tool to ensure a person's safety after leaving an abusive situation. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Paula Sheppard, president of Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women, echoed McGrath's statements. Sheppard said the GPS tracking device adds safety to those leaving abusive situations, and when coupled with other intervention programs, the electronic monitoring device is doubly effective.

"It is encouraging to see that the Department of Justice and Public Safety has recognized advocates' voices, that electronic monitoring is a useful tool to ensure a person's safety after leaving an abusive situation," Sheppard said.

"This is a positive step forward to have everyone working together to end all forms of violence in our province."

On Thursday evening, the family of Cortney Lake, who has been missing since June 2017, contacted CBC News with a statement in response to Parsons' new programs.

Police have said they believe Lake is dead, and are investigating her death as a homicide.

"Since Cortney's disappearance we have lobbied government and spoken publicly on the need for such monitoring. It is our family's belief that had the man who murdered her been ordered to wear an electronic bracelet, Cortney would still be with us," the statement read.

"While this announcement today will not bring Cortney back to us, we applaud government for recognizing the need in keeping victims safe and enhancing the supervision of offenders."

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador