Justice on the Cheap: Germany Opts for Electronic Ankle Monitors to Cut Jail Costs

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Patrick Bernard / Abaca / Newscom

German judges now have the option of replacing jail sentences with electronic monitoring through ankle bracelets

This post is in partnership with Worldcrunch, a new global-news site that translates stories of note in foreign languages into English. The article below was originally published in Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Ever more cash-strapped German states are busy keeping local criminals from serving prison sentences. Local justice officials are signing up for a centrally run electronic-ankle-bracelet program as a way to save the cost of keeping criminals in jail.

Since Jan. 1, 2011, sentencing judges in Germany have a third option besides a fine or jail time: electronic monitoring — an ankle bracelet that may be ordered for those who stand accused, have been convicted or are still considered dangerous after serving a jail sentence.

Five of the 16 German states — Bavaria, Hesse, Baden-Württemberg, North Rhine-Westphalia and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern — have already signed up for the program, and others are set to follow. The central monitoring station is located in Bad Vilbel (a town in Hesse) and will be up and running fully on Jan. 1, 2012.

Hesse was the first state to experiment as early as 10 years ago with the use of the monitoring bracelet. Baden-Württemberg followed suit in an attempt to lower costs: keeping someone housed in jail costs over $400,000 a year, compared with about $10,000 for monitoring someone wearing a bracelet.

According to the Bavarian justice department, there is also an economy of scale to consider: the more prisoners there are wearing the bracelets, the cheaper the cost. The company that makes the bracelets estimates the cost for the package at about $3,400 per person per year.

Electronic ankle bracelets are already used in other European countries, such as Sweden, Spain and the U.K. In the U.K. alone they are used to monitor 60,000 people. Some 100,000 are monitored with the bracelets in the U.S.

The bracelets received considerable publicity when film director Roman Polanski was ordered by a Swiss court in 2009 to wear one while under house arrest in Gstaad, and more recently when a New York City court ordered former International Monetary Fund director Dominique Strauss-Kahn to wear one.

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