Is Tagging Violent Offenders the Way to Go?

Like several of my co-bloggers, I am of the anti-violence, de-escalation, anti-incarceration and anti-police industry camp. I think generally increased penalties on criminal behavior supports and reinforces more criminal behavior. I believe that a just criminal justice system is one that is fair, protects the interests of the people and is built through community organizing.
Having said that, my political beliefs about prisons, policing and law enforcement are often taken to task on the issue of domestic violence, stalking and other forms of harassment and assault. Calling the police may not always help, restraining orders are hard to obtain and even harder to enforce. But it is still an option that many women choose and one of the only that are available to them.
It is with this same ambivalence that I think about this law in France that will most likely pass, garnering unanimous support. Men who have a court order to stay away from their ex-partner will be electronically tagged and if they violate their court order police will be notified immediately.

The proposal is part of a draft law on conjugal violence. It has cross-party support and is expected to pass easily.
According to the government, around 160 women in France are murdered by their husbands or partners every year.
Parliament is also considering outlawing psychological violence in the home, because it is seen by many as a precursor to physical violence.
It is rare for the left and the right in France to agree on anything, says the BBC’s Hugh Schofield, so the near unanimity in parliament behind this law comes as something of a novelty.
Everyone agrees that domestic violence is bad and getting worse.

Awareness on behalf of the government of the epidemic of violence against women is a good thing and will lead to more legislation that supports the rights of victims. Also, I think if I were one of these women, this would put my mind at ease on some level, knowing that police are being proactive about enforcing court orders. On the other hand, this is still part of the same cycle and system of violence. If someone wants to get to you, a bracelet that alerts your parole officer may not always stop them.
So while I am in support of this kind of legislation (even though the idea of “tagging” has a bit of a post-apocalyptic cyber realm thing going on with it), I think it should be paired with anti-violence and rehabilitation therapy and trainings to create long-term solutions to violence.

Join the Conversation

  • LivingOutLoud

    Having worked in the area of domestic violence both here and in Europe, I have to strongly disagree with this law.
    While I think pro-active legislation that enables the current system to better serve women, children and men who face domestic violence is absolutely, 100% needed – I do not agree with this pro-police state type of action.
    The idea of electronically tagging individuals is incredibly dangerous in my mind, especially for individuals who haven’t yet faced a court to be tried and convicted for their crimes. I understand individuals who have restraining orders or Protection from Abuse orders against them have broken the law, and may be incredibly dangerous – but I am still not comfortable with this.
    Law enforcement officers need to begin by talking women and the issue of domestic violence more seriously first. The attitude needs to change. Electronically tagging people is only one step in the wrong direction.

  • Sloppy Sandwich

    Sci-fi nerd here, Samhita. I think what you mean to say is dystopian, not post-apocolyptic.
    Post-apocolyptic is societal breakdown, end of civilisation type stuff, think Mad Max or The Road.
    Dystopian is anti-utopian, usually in the future, a world where society is not destroyed but is sick and usually totalitarian; 1984, THX 1138, and Farenheit 451 being a few prime examples.

  • supremepizza

    Many people on bail, or on probation are tagged Samhita, do you also have problems with that? There’s a bit of the “Scarlet Letter” in this story, and so its problematic to do this without having a trial first as a result, but in general it seems like a good, practical way to enforce separation between a woman & someone who might harm her.

  • KatieinNewYork

    As someone who has worked in the field, do you have any information about the success rates of therapy and rehab for perpetrators of domestic violence/intimate partner violence? Or does anyone else reading know?
    I ask because I recently read some sad statistic that something like only 4% of men (yeah, men) show long-term improvement. I was just wondering how accurate that is.

  • PDXHopeful

    I get where you’re coming from with this, and I would support restricting this tagging to those who’ve been convicted of assault toward their partner.
    In basic concept though, is it all that different from certain people on house arrest or parole being ordered to wear an ankle monitor? Or, someone convicted of a DUI getting a breathalyzer ignition lock in their vehicle? Now, you may very well not support those measures either, and that’d be perfectly consistent. But, if you do, what’s the difference between this and those other measures?

  • TD

    It would also seem to me that there are conflicting goals of both making restraining orders both easy to obtain, and to cause them to impose significant restrictions.
    I’m not at all familiar with civil law so I can’t comment on the implications of the French Law, but in a common law system it would seem to necessitate increased scrutiny in order to fulfill the claim of due process when you increase the implications of the court order.
    I have to wonder if at some point restraining orders as a court ordered tool might be the wrong course of action when arrest/prosecution might be a more effective and appropriate course of action.

  • LivingOutLoud

    Some people might disagree with this, but in my personal opinion and experience, I think it really depends on the type and escalation of the abuse, and the abuser him or herself. The power and control wheel and the elements represented with in it are always a factor in abuse, but I personally believe that there are some individuals who do benefit from rehabilitation, For the most part though, I would agree with the 4% statistic.
    For example, there are abusers who are only violent when abusing drugs and or/alcohol (though I have only ever personally dealt with one family where the husband was only ever violent/controlling, etc while under the influence). In most cases in my experience, the substance only exasperates the violence. But it does happen where the substance abuse is the core issue.
    Then there is abuse that is never physical, but emotional or involves “crazy-making, or other elements of control, such as financial, etc” Often times this abuse will escalate into violence (and it can often times be the most over looked because of the very fact it isn’t physical, but there have been a few incidences where I have seen abusers enter therapy and be successful with it. But this is the exception, not the rule.
    What I am saying is, that in my own PERSONAL experience (I want to make it clear that this is just my experience as a DV worker and advocate) most individuals cannot be rehabiliated. But I am not a professional clinician, I only know what I see and have experience and witnessed. This probably isn’t helpful! Sorry.

  • LivingOutLoud

    I definitely don’t agree with the breathalyzer in ignition locks for DUI individuals, or ankle bracelets for those on parole (as much as I may want to, I can’t support measures like this on principle).
    In terms of house arrest, however, my understanding is that the individual is confined to their home as a condition of their sentencing for a crime they were tried and convicted for. If this is in fact the correct legal interpretation, then I would support ankle bracelets for those individuals serving their “prison” term.

  • Toongrrl

    Believe me: some of the
    women would have their minds
    at ease. That they can live
    away from controlling and
    awful husbands and boyfriends

  • Spiffy McBang

    I’m down with the theory of this law, but how will it be executed? Tag the offender, fine, but how can you tell if the restraining order has been breached? You can’t tag the victim too. You could put a paired monitor on their place of residence or work, so you can at least tell if the offender gets within x distance of their home or office. That does seem like an improvement, and maybe that’s good enough for now, but I’m not sure how it would be possible to expand protection outside of those places.

  • Dawn.

    I have a complicated relationship with legislation like this. The U.S. has been considering this for some time. Representatives in Congress have introduced bills to put electronic monitoring devices on people with protection orders against them. Electronic monitoring devices are already used in the U.S. anyway, for people with prior molestation and/or rape convictions. I don’t know if France currently does as well, but it wouldn’t be surprising.
    I don’t buy into the dystopian fear these kinds of proposals stir up, which I think is the main reason they are unpopular. I do agree that it props up the prison industrial complex, which I am fundamentally against. But if I were a domestic abuse survivor who’s abuser had recently gotten out of prison, or I had recently separated from them, I would probably support that legislation. It would give me some small sliver of comfort that there are eyes on him, making sure he keeps his distance. Of course it’s not 100% effective, of course it’s problematic. But I’m not entirely against exploring the idea.

  • Lydia

    THX 1138? Wow, you ARE a sci fi nerd!

  • hfs

    I think it’s an absolutely terrible idea to allow any sort of electronic tagging or tracking without first obtaining a conviction: it would set a dangerous precedent, and it would be too easy for authorities to abuse this.
    As part of a sentence or a condition of parole, this might be more acceptable.

  • Lydia

    And this is why thinking about the problem of punishment and/or rehab of criminals makes my head hurt.
    It is an issue that brings up numerous moral questions which I really have no idea how to answer. I remember talking about them at great length in a philosophy of public policy class I took in college. We had an exercise which involved looking at a (relatively detailed) list of hypothetical crimes and choosing appropriate punishments from a list of possibities, which included things like death penalty, 5 years prison sentence, life in prison, house arrest, probation, rehab etc. Some people finished up in a flash but those of us who are skeptical of the idea of incarceration, retribution and other aspects of our society’s system of punishment were going nuts, particularly when it came to examples that involved rape and abuse. We kept on coming up with convoluted combinations of rehab and other stuff (and writing caveats in the margins etc.) that would jibe more easily with our consciences. We felt that morally there was no other choice. Here’s the thing. I don’t really think rehab for abusers works either. I think a few months or years of rehab is no match for a lifetime of living in and learning from a society that teaches men to be aggressive and violent. The best solution would obviously be to not live in such a society. But that is not an option we have at this time. Our society is what it is right now, and we have to find a practical way to deal with the consequences.
    So what the hell do you do? I don’t think it really helps anyone to throw a bunch of violent men into a violent environment like prison. On the other hand, it does keep those violent people away from their victims (and potential victims) for as long as they’re there. And how many other options do you have if rehab doesn’t work? One would be the electronic tagging idea. And I share your concerns about it. It sounds a bit too Orwellian for me to be totaly comfortable with it. But if it prevents innocent people from being harmed, is it, perhaps, the lesser of two evils? Or is that slope just too damn slippery? I don’t know. I guess I lean towards supporting this law, but I don’t really have any answers. The truth is, this problem confounds me.

  • Sara B

    Does the law actually limit its application to men?

  • Sky

    In the abstract, I’m opposed to this.
    But, as things stand now, it is difficult to get a restraining order against an abusive person, especially if they were never physically abusive, or if you have had a relationship (familial, romantic, or otherwise) with your abuser. Plus, restraining orders do very little unless the person actually breaks the restraining order, and then it’s on the victim to call the police and, if the perpetrator runs away, prove that they were actually there. Given all that, I’m in favor. And yes, I’m an abuse survivor.