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Tracking children in their best interests: electronic monitoring in three European juvenile justice systems

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Need for child-friendly approach to minors wearing electronic tags

The rights of children are not always being properly considered in electronic monitoring systems, a new study finds.

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Electronic monitoring (EM) has potentially harmful consequences for children ordered to wear electronic tags because judicial systems are failing to adopt child-friendly approaches, a new study has concluded. Electronic tags limit children’s involvement in age-appropriate activities, and the visibility of devices increases the risk of wearers being identified as subject to judicial measures, say the researchers supported by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions. The team behind the TCBI project at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, called for better data to be collected nationally and for a common approach to EM to be developed across different EU jurisdictions. “The research shows procedures vary between jurisdictions in the extent to which they are responsive to children’s rights,” says Eszter Párkányi, the project’s research fellow, who was supervised by Anthea Hucklesby, then professor of criminal justice at Leeds. The researchers studied the operation of EM in three different European judicial systems: England and Wales, Hungary, and the Netherlands. Although they found some shortcomings in all of them, they also flagged examples of good practice. This included the Dutch ‘rehabilitation model’ where children participate in the assessment for EM and where the best interests of children are more likely to be considered. “In the Netherlands, EM is used primarily as part of an intensive supervision programme to support behavioural change with the aim of bringing about desistance. The process is overseen by specialised youth probation workers,” observes Hucklesby. Hucklesby had previously led a European comparative project on the use of EM in criminal justice systems for adults. Párkányi and Hucklesby noted limited research was available on EM for children despite its use in many European judicial systems. The research team analysed relevant law and policy and interviewed practitioners and stakeholders in the three jurisdictions. They also talked to schoolchildren in focus groups and interviewed four children subject to EM. They heard how children sometimes avoid sports and activities with other children their own age if a bulky electronic tag is visible and they don’t want their peers to know they are being monitored. “There was strong support for designing smaller devices and improving battery life to improve the wearers’ experience,” adds Párkányi. While technological assistance is provided by trained professional staff in all three jurisdictions, dedicated support focusing on the well-being of children is not always a requirement. Countries should ensure that the support is implemented in all procedures and provided by specialist youth justice and child protection services, concluded researchers. If implemented well, EM can reduce the number of children in detention and the time children spend in detention, whether in pretrial custody or serving sentences. It can also support prison leave, early release and rehabilitation in the community. This is desirable from a children’s rights perspective but also because children are at risk of violence by detention centre staff, adult detainees and peers, and of high levels of self-harm, as the UN found. “We would like to promote the development of a comprehensive approach to EM across the different EU jurisdictions and encourage discussion between national policymakers,” concludes Hucklesby.


TCBI, electronic monitoring, electronic tag, detention

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