[FOUNTAIN]Turning homes into jails

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[FOUNTAIN]Turning homes into jails

In 1983, a judge in the state of New Mexico, in the United States, got an interesting idea while reading the comic book “Spider-Man.” In the comic book, in order to pursue Spider-Man, the villain secretly attached a transmitter to his arm. The judge thought: What if one were to attach transmitters to prison inmates, confine them to their houses instead of to jails, and monitor their locations? The judge made an electronic bracelet as small as a matchbox and had a trial run, attaching the device to parolees’ ankles. This is how the electronic surveillance system was born.
In the United States and Canada, three methods of electronic surveillance are largely used. The most common is for the police computer to monitor signals from transmitters attached to prisoners’ bodies. Another is for a computer to call their homes and compare their voices with their prerecorded voices on the computer. A third is for police to monitor the signals while patrolling near prisoners’ houses.
In 1984, the state of Florida began to monitor 144 criminals by electronic surveillance. The state found it could reduce its budget by $150,000 for two years by confining criminals to their homes instead of prisons. The rate of second offenses decreased, and so did the need to build more prisons. Problems were also pointed out: that the system violated prisoners’ privacy, and that system management was difficult. Nevertheless, the system spread to other states, including Kentucky, Oregon, New Jersey and Utah.
Some time ago, the news broke that Korean American Robert Kim, who had been serving a sentence for espionage in a U.S. federal prison, might be released on parole early next year and spend the rest of his term in his house. Virginia, where his house is located, is a state that uses electronic surveillance.
Korea has a rudimentary system in which a computer calls a very few persons under surveillance at night and identifies their voices. The Ministry of Justice has recently released a large number of prisoners as part of its plan to reduce the number of prisoners under protective custody by half. But some point out that the government should approach the matter carefully, given that the rate of second offenses is more than 40 percent. Supplementary measures are needed, even if they are not necessarily American-style electronic surveillance. It will be much better if the government can make the best use of advanced technology.


by Lee Kyu-youn

The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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