A new pilot program to track domestic violence offenders in Red Deer with GPS ankle monitors started just in time to deal with increasing violence against women.
Ian Wheeliker, executive director Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter, said over the past year more women coming to the shelter have experienced severe physical assaults including passing out from strangulation by their partner or spouse.
“The degree of violence is escalating,” Wheeliker said.
Work on the three-year project officially started October 2010 and by August 2011 the first offender had a monitor secured to his ankle.
The shelter received $450,000 from the provincial government’s Safe Communities Innovation Fund for the GPS (Global Positioning System) Electronic Monitoring project.
Red Deer has 10 ankle monitors and currently three are tracking the movements of offenders.
Wheeliker said RCMP respond to an average of 150 domestic violence calls monthly. Of the roughly 30 people charged each month, about 30 to 50 per cent are medium to high risk offenders.
GPS monitors are available to be used on medium to high risk offenders during probation or sentences served in the community.
Ankle monitors, equipped with a built-in cellphone and radio frequency, are tracked 24-7.
They alert police if the offender goes near or into an area they are not allowed to go, like the victim’s house or workplace, disobeys court-ordered curfews, and if monitors are damaged in an effort to take them off.
Wheeliker said so far none of the offenders with monitors have breached their sentence or probation orders.
And comments from offenders have even been positive, he said.
“What they’re telling the probation officers is that the bracelet is a reminder that they need to walk a straight line.”
Wheeliker said the monitoring project’s management committee — made up of RCMP, Community Corrections, the provincial Crown, shelter staff and others involved in addressing domestic violence in the community — is very pleased with preliminary results.
He said the shelter is “cautiously optimistic.”
Victims feel safer, but they should not assume ankle monitors will automatically save lives.
“We’re working with the women involved in making sure the bracelet is not their entire safety plan.”
As part of the project, probation is working more intensely with offenders and fast-tracking them into a 12-month treatment program for violent men.
“We’re doing everything possible to manage offenders and everything possible to enhance safety for victims. It’s a comprehensive approach for both the victim and the offender.”
The University of Calgary will be evaluating GPS projects in Red Deer, Edmonton and Calgary projects.
The Calgary and Edmonton projects monitor high risk offenders, including sex offenders, following their release from prison.
Red Deer is the only community to focus on domestic violence.
“We’re the only pilot project across the whole country specific to domestic violence offenders.
“Nova Scotia was leading the way with offenders on a GPS program, but government cancelled their program due to budget cuts.”
— copyright Red Deer Advocate