Running on the Back of the Boogeyman

By Jason Menard

For the London-Fanshawe Conservative candidate, not supporting their plan to fight the boogeyman is akin to supporting sexual predators. And while Cheryl Miller continues to bully the NDP candidate in an attempt to coerce an agree/disagree statement about their GPS plan, are any of us sure that this idea even works?

The Ontario PC party is playing the politics of fear with its constant reiteration of their desire to mandate that convicted sex offenders wear GPS tracking devices, promoting it as a tool to increase public safety. 

But will $50 million dollars a year buy you a sense of security for your children? Or will it have the opposite effect – making it difficult for sex offenders to reintegrate into society, increase the stressors that may lead to negative behaviours, and end up putting more potential victims at risk by forcing criminals underground – and to take more drastic action?

This report, published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police in August 2008 looks at the issue using U.S. data. In 2006, 22 states had passed legislation either authorizing or requiring GPS technology to track sex offenders. Their goal was “to reduce recidivism, absconding, noncompliance, and violations of conditions of supervision” with the end result of “promoting sex offender accountability and increasing public safety.”

So does it work?

The report cautions against making any sweeping generalizations, stating that there’s limited empirical support for the statements. However, while the technology – specifically active monitoring – seemed to increase compliance with treatment orders and reduce the likelihood of absconding or committing a violation, but there are a number of challenges with the system.

First and foremost, there’s the issue of cost. For this to work, the best solution appears to be active monitoring, which would allow near-real-time information transmission and response potential – but for that you need someone monitoring these items at all times. There’s a huge cost involved and you’re at the mercy of wireless data service coverage. And these devices aren’t exactly unobtrusive.

The fatal flaw with any GPS system is that it doesn’t actually prevent the crime. Yes, it can help you track down the culprit after the fact and corroborate any evidence you may have, but the crime is committed and some victim is either dead or facing emotional scarring.

Assuming these devices are battery run, are we all comfortable with believing that someone who is planning to re-offend will faithfully recharge these systems? Sure, the police may receive notification that the batteries have been drained, but by the time they address the situation will it be too late?

And let’s not forget the court challenges this type of system would bring about. Are we certain that they will stand up in court, or will this be an expensive error in judgment?

Finally, this idea of random assaults is plain wrong. The boogeyman isn’t the creepy guy hanging out at the park; usually he or she is someone that the victim already knows. For the most part, sexual assaults aren’t crimes of opportunity – they’re perpetrated by family members, friends, and acquaintances.

So what’s the solution? I’ve advocated instituting a Karla’s Law which would set forth strict conditions on post-release behaviour. Essentially, once you’ve committed this type of crime, you forfeit your right to all the same freedoms that those of us who have followed the rules enjoy, but the monitoring is done by police in a much less intrusive manner than strapping on an ankle bracelet or other GPS tag that essentially brands the person as “child rapist/killer” by sight.

Not everyone re-offends and if these people can be safely reintegrated into society, then we should do it. If we’re not willing to try to allow them some sense of normalcy after they’ve served their sentence then let’s just immediately kill everyone who commits a violent crime. Then we don’t have to worry about them at all, right?

Fortunately, our society doesn’t work that way. No, I don’t think the slate should be wiped clean, but I also don’t think that this is the biggest campaign issue out there. It’s dramatic and it allows for a so- inclined politician to spew forth rhetoric that distracts from the issues that the average citizen truly cares about.

And disagreeing with one idea about how to deal with child predators does not equal supporting child predators. But there are criminals of all types out there to deal with and I would hope that politicians who are so quick to go after those who rape women and children will also be equally zealous in their efforts against those white-collar criminals who rape and pillage our senior’s retirement funds and pension plans.

I admire the other candidates for not falling prey to the GPS trap. Solving this problem likely requires a much more comprehensive approach, but that simply doesn’t make a good sound bite. I want proof that this works; I want proof that the threat of publicly wearing a GPS for life won’t cause someone who previously would have assaulted a child then release him or her to kill him or her instead, knowing what’s at stake if they’re identified.

Most importantly, I want to know what our options are, what our police can handle, and what actually works before I’m ready to say yea or nay.

When it comes to any issue in a political campaign, I need more than just a sound bite to chew on.

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