ASTANA – Remote electronic monitoring of convicts is underway in Kazakhstan, as the new criminal and penal codes adopted in early July went into effect Jan. 1.
The codes were enacted against the background of the nation’s continuing efforts to humanise its criminal and penal legislation through the wide use of non-punitive legal means. The action is aimed at positively influencing prisoners and helping them mend their ways.
In line with the newly-introduced penal code, electronic monitoring bracelets will be used to track three categories of convicts: those sentenced to restricted freedom, given a suspended sentence and released from prison on parole.
The list of electronic tracking devices was approved by government decree in November and includes seven specifically-described types of tracking equipment. The procedure used with each device is also strictly defined by the competent penal authority.
Remote electronic monitoring is part of the probation system that was first introduced in Kazakh legislation in February 2012. In the context of overall liberalisation and democratisation, the penal system faced the problem of introducing a new methodology of imposing criminal sanctions without isolating convicts from society. To enable the system work properly, amendments and additions were made to ten different laws.
In the following months, the General Prosecutor’s Office and Ministry of Internal Affairs have continuously tried to expand the use of non-custodial sentences in order to establish fairer and more proportionate sanctions. Experts agree that probation is more effective than imprisonment for less serious crimes, particularly in terms of its cost effectiveness.
While devising new codes, extensive research was made into the European experience of using electronic monitoring, including in the U.K., the Netherlands and Germany. A number of lessons learned from experience elsewhere were taken into account when finalising the codes. For example, in the United States it is four times cheaper to use electronic monitoring bracelets on convicts than to keep them in prison.
Similarly, the use of monitoring bracelets in Kazakhstan will help decrease the number of people in jails and significantly reduce the budget.According to Deputy Prosecutor General Zhakip Assanov, the government presently spends 580,000 tenge (US$3,167) annually to service one prisoner.
As national legislation in the appropriate spheres was almost completely revised, which led to the adoption of new codes, it is hoped the probation system will gain momentum.
Kazakh criminal policy now regards the idea of expanding humanisation to be of paramount importance and aims to reduce the number of persons condemned to imprisonment through wider use of alternative forms of custodial punishment. The expansion of probation services and introduction of electronic monitoring are seen as key developments in reducing the prison population and further decriminalisation and humanisation of the law, which constitute one of the major goals of the government and law enforcement bodies.
In 2013, 7,000 offenders were on probation in Kazakhstan. Authorities expect the introduction of electronic bracelets to be worn by probationers will help significantly improve the situation. With the new criminal code in effect, the number of probationers is expected to reach 50,000.
As stipulated by the newly-introduced penal code, probation is a set of measures of social and legal nature enforced at the individual’s place of residence. The offender is ordered to follow certain conditions set forth by the law under the supervision of a police officer. During this testing period, an offender faces the threat of being sent back to prison if found breaking the rules.
Electronic monitoring has an important part to play as a correctional tool as well, particularly in helping people develop more self-control over their lives and comply with court-imposed restrictions. However, electronic monitoring works best when supported by trained probation services with the resources to provide supervision and advice for offenders.
Therefore, the mission of probation service is not only to execute non-custodial control, but also to render social and legal assistance to probationers and help them obtain education, find a job and receive medical care. The assistance, in turn, is intended to secure their social rehabilitation, as well as prevent and reduce new crimes they might commit.
When dealing with the probationer, officers look at the profile of the convicted offender, explain the system of socio-legal assistance and obligations provided by the court and develop an individual programme of socio-legal assistance. As a result, probation officers cooperate with local municipalities and have the right to establish job quotas for those on the probation service list. In addition, state agencies are able to support their work with the assistance of non-governmental organisations through a system of state social order.
Despite holding 31st place on the global prison population list with 316 prisoners per 100,000 people, which is considered to be a rather high indicator, Kazakhstan has already made significant progress in reducing its prison population and plans to reduce it still further by using more alternative sentences. Thus, the number of prisoners has decreased almost three times since independence, dropping from 140,000 to 49,000.
Following the introduction of the required legislative base, Kazakh law enforcement bodies must still decide where to buy the electronic monitoring devices and arrange a proper procedure for allocation of funds for their procurement.
It has been reported authorities are now planning to set up local production of electronic bracelets instead of purchasing the devices abroad. In their words, it would be more feasible and cost-efficient for the state budget.