Current legislation does not differentiate between house arrest and electronic monitoring. Photo Rafael Murillo, La Nacion

At 18 years of age, due to his drug addiction, on conviction, a judge ordered electronic monitoring and house arrest in lieu of prison. Due to his socioeconomic situation, the young man did not have a place to stay or means to get a job.

The Ministerio de Jusiticia (Ministry of Justice, which in Costa Rica runs the penitentiary system), faced with the dilemma had to help him get a room and job or send him back to jail.

But, sending him to jail was not so easy, since the judge’s order needed to make the change to send him to prison.

Thus, the Minister, Cecilia Sanchez, had to help him. According to Deputy Ministe of Justice, Marco Feoli, she found the young man a job in Perez Zeledon and a family willing to take him into their home, so he could be monitored, as ordered by the court, by way of an ankle bracelet.

Feoli explains that is only one problem faced by the ministry in the first six months, to comply with the alternative measure to imprisonment for people with minor sentences, that is without a proper law.

Feoli believes that the monitoring system needs to be improved and the Instituto Nacional de Criminología, del Ministerio de Justicia (National Institute of Criminology of the Ministry of Justice) should be given more responsibility.

In addition, among other changes, Feoli believes judges should have reports of each case to have better criteria before ordering the use of the electronic monitoring device.

Feoli said the legislation does not set out the criteria for the judges to evaluate other factors, such as the personality of the sentenced person, his/her behavior, the seriousness of the crime committed, the subsequent conduct and his/her willingness to make amends.

Feoli added the current law does not establish the obligation of judges to determine how electronic surveillance is imposed and does not even define what is meant by such surveillance, leaving it up to the Ministry of Justice to enact regulations contemplate what to do with certain conditions.

According to the deputy minister, beyond technical deficiencies, the program has legal failures and errors in concept. For example, house arrest is confused with electronic tracking.

“We’ve had cases of people who were ordered to house arrest for five years and it seemed that they had to be locked up in their homes 24 hours. That would generate tremendous family and social chaos,” Feoli said.

The current legislation allows judges to order the use of electronic monitoring (in lieu of prison) for people with a sentence of six years or less.


Currently, there are 321 people in the country wearing ankle bracelets and so far the Ministry of Justice has recorded only 25 non-compliance cases or violations; which in 10 of those cases the court reversed the decision and sent the inmate to prison. And unjustified violations, for example, is when an individual attempts to flee to the country, say Panama or Nicaragua.

Back to the young man without a home or job, Feoli said, “Sometimes it’s not that the person does not want to comply,” blaming violations on the system.

According to Feoli, the entire penitentiary system needs to be reviewed.

“We are a country that has 14,000 prisoners, the fourth country in Latin America with more penal population,” said Feoli.

He said that jail does not have to be the only solution. “Many times confinement can lead to people come out worse and become more dangerous.”

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