Senegal addresses prison overcrowding by fitting inmates with digital tracking tags and releasing them

Senegal addresses prison overcrowding by fitting inmates with digital tracking tags and releasing them
A detainee monitored with an electronic anklet monitor | Source: Reuters

has initiated a groundbreaking pilot program to address the issue of overcrowded prisons by releasing hundreds of detainees under electronic supervision.

The move comes as a response to the challenging conditions faced by inmates, particularly those in pre-trial detention, with many ineligible for bail due to the lack of official addresses. Senegal became the first country in to implement such a program.

In a notable case, a heavily pregnant detainee, who had spent eight months in prison, was given the option to be tracked remotely with an ankle monitor during her trial.

The 42-year-old woman, who was part of a counterfeit money scheme, was offered the opportunity to go home while being monitored.

This pilot scheme aims to reduce the prison population and could serve as a model for other countries facing similar challenges. and are reportedly exploring similar programs.

While ankle monitors offer an alternative to incarceration, critics argue that they do not address the root causes of prison overcrowding, such as harsh punishments for minor crimes and sluggish judicial systems.

Additionally, concerns have been raised about the potential misuse of electronic monitoring for surveillance purposes, particularly in authoritarian regimes.

The ankle monitors in use allow individuals to move within an assigned perimeter in their neighbourhoods, with any breach triggering alerts to a central surveillance centre.

While some have found the monitors uncomfortable, individuals subjected to electronic monitoring express a preference for this over remaining in prison.

Senegal's program is currently monitoring around 240 individuals, with plans to expand its capacity. Lieutenant Moussa Dieye, who heads the monitoring team, emphasized the potential benefits of the program in supervising individuals awaiting judgment.

However, the scale of the challenge is immense, considering Senegal's prison population exceeds 13,000, with an occupancy level of 130% of capacity in 2018, according to World Prison Brief data.

Critics argue that while electronic monitoring may be useful, it does not address broader issues such as the shortage of legal personnel, training, and budget constraints. Additionally, the requirement for charging the ankle monitors poses challenges for individuals in areas without reliable access to electricity.

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