Red Deer’s program to monitor domestic violence offenders with GPS ankle bracelets has been extended until the end of March.
But Alberta’s grim economic outlook has likely put the program at risk beyond spring, said Ian Wheeliker, executive director of Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter.
Wheeliker said the government will have to make some tough decisions.
“For sure I think with the current fiscal realities, programs like the GPS pilot are in jeopardy. There’s no question about it. Any of these small pilots and small programs are definitely in jeopardy,” Wheeliker said.
But when government faces economic struggles, so do Albertans, including domestic abusers, he said.
“Economic stress, unemployment, is a high-risk factor for spousal homicide. When these guys lose their jobs — look out — that’s a high-risk factor.”
The GPS pilot program was to come to an end on Dec. 31, but Wheeliker said he found out recently that it could continue until the end of March with surplus funding accumulated when it wasn’t running at full capacity and when it was temporarily shut down in the spring.
The three-year, $450,000 project officially ended in March 2013. Since then, funding was extended twice.
Ten ankle monitors are available through the program for domestic violence offenders who are found guilty and have probation orders.
Ankle monitors, equipped with a built-in cellphone and radio frequency, are tracked constantly.
They alert police if offenders go near or into an area they are not allowed, like a victim’s house or workplace, disobey court-ordered curfews, and if monitors are damaged in an effort to take them off.
Currently, seven offenders are being tracked in Red Deer.
Wheeliker said the compliance rate by offenders has been good.
“The program is not just the GPS monitoring. They’re actively working with their probation officer. We fast track these guys into addictions counselling, domestic violence treatment — the whole nine yards. So it’s the whole package that they’re getting that contributes to the compliance.”
He said a report on the program, as well as similar pilots running in Calgary and Edmonton, is in the province’s hands and they are also gathering more information. He said the small-scale pilots have shown promise, but it’s hard to build a very strong case in support of larger programs with small-scale data.
Meanwhile, corrections departments in British Columbia are looking at GPS monitors and the federal government wants to track 300 offenders on parole.
“The technology continues to develop and the programs continue to develop. For me, it’s not a question of if we’re going to see this as a part of community corrections in the future, it’s when.”
Wheeliker said expanding programs slowly would be a good next step in Red Deer, Edmonton and Calgary, where they now have experience with the technology and with monitoring offenders.
If it’s not viable to hold offenders accountable with GPS tracking, then the province has to keep families safe with more second-stage housing for victims of domestic violence.
“If we can’t monitor these offenders, and we know they don’t very often end up in jail, then I really think we’ve got to seriously look at the development of high-risk, second-stage apartments where we can keep our families safe for a longer period of time because it’s the ongoing stalking and harassment that present the risk.
“Without the GPS, we’re not that good at stopping the constant breach of conditions and the constant drive-bys. But if we can have safe, secure housing that has 24-hour staff, we can keep these families safe. That’s more of a long-term, sustainable-type of program so that might be a good alternative until the government has a chance to really decide whether they will go full-scale with electronic monitoring program.”
For four years, the 10-suite facility Julietta’s Place, operated by Central Alberta Women’s Outreach, has provided abused women and their children with a safe place to live as they rebuild their lives in Red Deer.
It’s the only housing of its kind in Central Alberta.
Wheeliker said the outreach and the women’s emergency shelter have put together a joint proposal for more such housing.
“We absolutely need 35 units right now.”