Best Practices Approach to the Electronic Monitoring of Youth

By Buchanan, Kimberly; Maeder, Evelyn | Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services, March 2004 | Go to article overview

Best Practices Approach to the Electronic Monitoring of Youth


Buchanan, Kimberly, Maeder, Evelyn, Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services


Youth-focused electronic monitoring (EM) programs were initially implemented in the late 1980s in the United States. The growing popularity of these programs can be noted by their development throughout the world, such as the recent establishment of the first youth EM program in Canada (the Youth Electronic Monitoring Pilot Program). With its increasing use, a number of issues pertaining to the EM of youth have become evident in the literature. Specifically, the following matters related to EM of youth have been discussed: program implementation, positive and negative consequences, recidivism rates, and cost-effectiveness. In addition, the increasing use of youth-focused EM programs has prompted the need for clear guidelines in the use of this sanction. This article provides "best practice" procedures for the EM of youth, which are founded upon empirically supported principles of effective young offender programs (i.e., selection of suitable offenders, program characteristics, and treatment integrity). In addition, the literature suggests that effective youth-focused EM programs are those that plan daily face-to-face contact, incorporate off-site random alcohol/ drug testing, identify indices of effectiveness and are evaluated regularly.

The roots of electronic monitoring (EM) can be traced back to biblical times, when the apostle Paul was placed under house arrest by the Romans (Gibbs & King, 2003). More recently, in the 1960's Harvard psychologist Robert Schwitzgebel developed the first electronic device that he believed would provide a humane and inexpensive alternative to incarceration (Gomme, 1995). The initial implementation of EM occurred in the early 1980s in the United States with adults (Bonta, Wallace-Capretta & Rooney, 1999). The popularity of EM programs is noted in many regions around the world (i.e., United States, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand) (Gibbs & King, 2003), including Canada. Currently, EM programs are in operation in four of the Canadian provinces (Goff, 2004). Following the use of EM with low-risk adult offenders, this approach was extended to American juvenile populations in 1986 (Roy, 1997). In comparison with adults, youth EM programs have been implemented on a smaller scale; programs currently exist in the United States, the United Kingdom and more recently in Canada.

The utilization of youth EM programs can be attributed to a combination of factors, many of which are derived from adult EM programs. The expectations of EM as being a cost-effective, community-based alternative to incarceration with adult offenders lead to its use with juvenile populations. Specifically, it has been suggested that decreased per diem costs as compared to institutional programs and reduction of personnel costs associated with residential programs would be applied from adult to youth populations (Charles, 1989). The EM of youth is also perceived to offer a humanistic form of rehabilitation in the home and in the community, in addition to decreasing negative family consequences (Vaughn, 1989). With the many purposes and goals of EM, one of the difficulties with this sanction has been the attempt to fulfill too many functions without the designation of a clear goal and purpose (Gibbs & King, 2003).

EM technology consists of an electronic device worn by the offender which emits a signal indicating both the offender's whereabouts and also any instance in which the offender leaves his or her place of residence (Bonta, Wallace-Capretta & Rooney, 2000). There are two major forms of EM equipment--continuously signalling and programmed contact equipment (Goff, 2004). Although both of the current devices can confirm whether or not an individual is at an approved place at a specific time, they are unable to track an offender's movement (John Howard Society, 2000). The technological advancement of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) allows offenders' precise location to be monitored (John Howard Society, 2000). …

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