Since its implementation in 2008, the electronic monitoring system has expanded to target a broader range of suspected, convicted, and released offenders. As it is a well-established argument that the behavior of tampering with electronic monitoring devices predicts recidivism, the Korean Ministry of Justice implemented a Special Judicial Police System in 2021 for a more efficient and immediate response to those violators. Due to an increase in the prevalence of damaging electronic monitoring devices among high-risk parolees, the Ministry of Justice has further launched an Electronic Supervision Investigation (ESI) Unit dedicated to preventing recidivism through deterrence principles of swiftness, certainty, and severity. The current study is a multifaceted study to evaluate this recent implementation of the Special Judicial Police System and suggest policy implications for better stabilization.
Despite the increase in the number of offenders released on electronic monitoring supervision, the number of investigation requests is not proportionate to the number of caseloads. Every year since 2013, the caseload size used to be somewhere between 100 and 200 until the emergence of the Judicial Police System. According to a press release issued by the Ministry of Justice, the number of conditional violations and damaging the monitoring equipment increased by 89.4%, from 996 cases in 2016 to 1,886 cases in 2018. On the other hand, there were 142 and 129 investigation requests for violations of the regulations in 2016 and 2020, respectively. It can be inferred that the number of cases requested for investigation was significantly lower relative to the number of actual violations, which implies that the sanctions for violations were not swift enough and that the sanction was rather lenient.
Initially, the Electronic Supervision Special Police system was operated by designating six regional special judicial police stations to dispatch six investigative officers to handle investigation requests. However, ESI units were soon established to begin operations in 13 headquarters across the country to respond to electronic violations of high-risk offenders more efficiently. Yet, no changes in staff size along this process resulted in relocating existing monitoring supervision officers to handle those Special Judicial Police work. Since the implementation of its system, the number of investigations carried out increased from an average caseload of 10 to 40 cases per month, while the number of violation-related arrests increased from 0 to 14 cases within two months of the ESI unit establishment.
In the case of the United States, electronic supervision is applied to those who have been released on probation, conditional release, or early release. Due to heightened emphasis placed on effectively managing convicted high-risk offenders over the past several decades, electronic monitoring has encompassed a wide range of systems and components in the means of enhancing public safety. Typical community supervision conditions coupled with electronic monitoring (both EM and GPS) include: finding and maintaining full-time employment or education; submitting to drug and alcohol tests, not changing employment or residence without permission; attending specific programs; not leaving a designated area without permission; allowing supervisors to visit their home at any time, and limiting social gatherings. Compliance, no tampering with electronic devices, no removal of tags, and no entry into restricted areas are the typical conditions for electronic monitoring supervision. Any violations can send the parolee back into jail or prison to serve all or the remainder of the sentence.
In general, policies and guidelines in responding to parolees’ technical violations vary, as community corrections officers are given the authority to determine adequate violation sanctions. In general, many agencies and supervisors use graduated sanctions to determine the sanction severity by considering the offender’s risk level, the seriousness of violation, the level of treatment need, and the level of non-compliance.
When electronically supervising high-risk offenders, the most significant difference between Korea and the US is supervision officers’ rights. Since all parole officers in the United States are sworn officers, they can exercise their law enforcement rights to deal with and manage violent parolees more effectively. Because all parole officers in the United States are similar to those “special judicial police officers” in South Korea, they may conduct warrantless searches in most states, even if there is no reasonable suspicion. In addition, parole officers in the United States can also issue an arrest warrant to put a parolee directly to jail when necessary. Those parole officers can also possess firearms, batons, handcuffs, and pepper spray as their personal protective equipment. The parole officers in the United States thus have sufficient qualifications and rights, which explains their lower level of reliance on the local police compared to the level of reliance shown in South Korea. If a parolee has damaged the electronic anklet and absconded, the fugitive's personal information (e.g., photo, demographic information, sentence length, conviction history) is immediately released to the public media, and a fugitive warrant gets issued. From that point, the sex offenders management team (if the absconder is a sex offender), electronic monitoring team, fugitive apprehension team, law enforcement agencies, and even citizens will work together to expedite the process of locating and arresting those wanted fugitives. It appears that there is a very systematic and efficient cooperative system established in the United States to enhance public safety.
On the other hand, the authority of those community corrections officers is closely associated with the conditions of electronic monitoring supervision. For instance, when the conditions of electronic monitoring supervision are diverse and detailed, it will allow those monitoring officers to supervise the subject more effectively. However, if the conditions of probation or parole requirements are somewhat limited and abstract, the authority of supervision officers will be reduced when managing offenders in the field. Therefore, as shown in the United States, it is necessary to induce the community corrections officers to boldly and actively enforce the law by imposing specific compliance requirements.
To comprehensively diagnose the current use of the Judicial Police System, the current study administered in-person interviews and surveys to the ESI units and electronic monitoring staff who partook responsibilities for the special judicial police system. Before establishing the Special Judicial Police system, the electronic monitoring staff had to request their investigations to police for imposing sanctions officially. Factors that previously hindered the commission of investigations by dedicated staff included efforts to maintain a favorable relationship with the subjects on electronic monitoring, lack of police officers’ understanding/familiarity with the electronic monitoring system, and the police's lukewarm attitude toward violations of the rules. These issues can be resolved by having ESI units in place because ESI personnel has the authority to promptly investigate violations without going through those original prolonged process.
However, since the ESI units can locate and investigate violations that were not requested by the monitoring staff, a frictional relationship may occur between staff. In addition, there are concerns about the lack of investigative techniques or lack of expertise among staff in the ESI units as they have no previous investigation experience. Since the Ministry of Justice has provided only three job training thus far due to COVID-19 public-gathering restrictions, it is critical to resolve the current situation of delayed training sessions.
Based on the study findings, the supervision officers expected that those problems that arose along with the newly established system would disappear as the ESI units become more knowledgeable and skilled. Because they gained the authority to investigate the violations of subjects on electronic supervision and are responsible for handling sanction-related tasks, the supervisory capacity of the existing monitoring staff is further strengthened due to a separation in their work assignments. Because the ESI units were launched within a short period of time, however, lack of resources has been a significant barrier to responding to violations Thus, it is essential to provide them with sufficient resources to perform their duties more effectively. The members of the ESI unit considered that current authority given to the ESI unit includes direct investigation (e.g., confiscation and search, emergency arrest, arrest of the current offender, arrest warrant, communication investigation), voluntary investigation, and initiation of an investigation, are appropriate.
The primary circumstance that is expected to impair the effectiveness of the ESI unit operation or cause other problems was 'increasing investigation cases that are unreasonable to maintain and expand the team,' and half of the survey respondents responded that this problem should be addressed first. Among the problems expected to occur when responding to the field situation, the ‘exposure to risk if the subject physically protests at the scene’ was ranked first by the ESI unit, followed by the problem of ‘exposure to the risk of night shift workers.’
There was also an area where the roles of the ESI unit and the electronic monitoring staff were inconsistent. In the case of regular management tasks such as collecting high-risk subjects' information and fact-checking, the electronic monitoring staff perceived that they were having both the role of the monitoring staff and the role of the ESI unit, whereas the ESI team recognized the judicial police role is for their own.
This difference in the perceptions of their roles can be explained by the ambiguous job assignments given to the ESI unit and monitoring staff. As both the electronic monitoring staff and the ESI unit became special judicial police, it is unclear what role the special police plays and who should become special judicial police under what circumstances. Therefore, it is necessary to redefine the role of the special police to reduce potential relational conflict between the ESI unit and the monitoring staff.
According to the Importance-Performance Gap Analysis (IPGA), the first remedial measure needed to improve an individual's competency was ‘investigation related education such as locating technique, effective compulsory investigation, etc.’, followed by ‘the work skill of the ESI unit’. The most important remedial measure to improve the system was a ‘stable work environment’. In the support system and facility sub-factors, the item that the ESI team wanted to secure first was ‘KICS(Korea Information System of Criminal Justice Services) system support’, which appeared in the order of cooperation system, specific work guidelines, and independent office space. To improve awareness, the ‘awareness of police, prosecutors, and judges’ found to be most important.
While the existing electronic supervision system relied on the cooperation of the police for on-site response and investigation in case of violations of the subject on electronic supervision, the introduction of this new Judicial Police system gave electronic supervision staff the authority to respond and investigate on-site themselves. Because the police are distributed nationwide and have the authority to respond to all criminal acts, they will be actively needed in the future. In the case of damaging monitoring devices by subjects, the police are also actively responding, so it is expected to be positive in securing promptness. Still, when requesting cooperation, the problem of sharing information about the target and cooperation in detailed work related to the handover of the arrested seem to be problems that need to be resolved.
Also, it was found that the prosecutors’ office is making efforts to cooperate in various ways, such as providing education for business support, meetings, and provision of legal advice through the establishment of a hotline. However, such support seems to differ depending on the ESI unit's request for support and the degree of activeness. It is also necessary to make an effort at the ministry level to ensure that all branch prosecutors’ offices can provide a certain level of support to the competent ESI unit.
The electronic supervisory special police system was divided into four dimensions: work system, staffing and operation, work authority and capability, and cooperation system with other institutions. Then, policy recommendations were discussed for each dimension based on the study findings. First, it is necessary to reconsider the current work system that separates monitoring supervision and sanctions-related tasks. Relocating and using the same manpower without a careful consideration of the increase in workload needs to be solved in the long term. In general, it seems that adequate supplementation has been achieved in terms of the laws and regulations in terms of authority, but additional discussion on the authority of progressive sanctions is necessary. In addition, material infrastructure should be equipped before discussing work competency, and education related to the investigation should be actively conducted. It is also essential to have an institutional and physical system that can guarantee the safety of employees. In cooperation with the police and prosecutors, it is necessary to make more efforts for continuous and active cooperation at the ministry level. As a future system evaluation tool, the necessity of using various indicators, such as the number of simple incident responses, whether it reduces actual violations or recidivism, and the need for systematic data accumulation was discussed. Lastly, from a realistic point of view, using the United States case as an example, the direction of the system should utilize the fact that all electronic supervisory staff is designated as special police.