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42 How. J. Crim. Just. 1 (2003)

handle is hein.journals/hjcj42 and id is 1 raw text is: 




The Howard journal Vol 42 No 1. February 2003
ISSN 0265-5527, pp. 1-31





  News Media, Popular Culture and the

  Electronic Monitoring of Offenders in

                    England and Wales



                             MIKE NELLIS
     Senior Lecturer in Criminal Justice Studies, University of Birmingham


Abstract: On 10January 2002, I was asked to provide a little expert comment on electronic
monitoring (EM) on BBC Radio Birmingham's Late Show', the pretext being a newspaper
report earlier that day indicating that Scotland was soon to roll out a national EM programme.
It was clear when I met her that the show's host had no idea that electronic monitoring had
already been underway in England and Wales for several years. Her immediate reaction to the
idea of it was hostile: being sentenced to serve time in one's own living room hardly seemed like
punishment. Several callers to the show were invited to comment on it in these terms, and most
were adamant that it was obviously no substitute for imp isonment. The experience was, for me,
indicative (in microcosm) of the generally poor quality of media debate about EM in England
and Wales, and suggested that EM has simply not registered with the public as the tough
punishment that its supporters hoped and its opponents feared it would be. This article is a
preliminary attempt to map the nature and level of awareness that has been shown about EM
in various manifestations of popular culture - the press, TV, cinema and literature - and to
tentatively suggest why it has taken the forms that it has. The article understands popular
culture primarily as a resource for interpreting and bestowing meaning upon EM but also, more
cursorily, considers it as an aspect of the milieu in which creative technological developments are
conceived.



England   and Wales  first experimented  with the electronic monitoring   of
offenders (EM)  in 1989/90, renewed   interest in it the mid-1990s, developed
it country-wide in the late-1990s and now uses it on a larger proportion of its
offenders than  any other  country - (whilst also having one of the highest
prison populations  in Europe). Thus  far, it has been used to enforce home
confinement.  The  present  technology consists of a small transmitter fitted
to the offender's ankle which,  so long as the offender  remains  close to a
signalling device installed in his home, can  be monitored   by a computer
which  may  be hundreds   of miles away. Voice  recognition technology  has
also been experimented   with in England, and in the USA  experiments  have
been  conducted  to track the movements  of convicted offenders using orbit-
ing satellites; this latter technology is not yet commercially viable, although
it is anticipated that it will become so (Renzema   1998).  The  capacity to
track, rather than the possibly 'interim' measure of home confinement,  has
long been  the ideal of Tom  Stacey's Offender Tag  Association (OTA),  the

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© Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2003, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ UK
and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA

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