Prisons to expand electronic tagging

The Irish Prison Service is significantly expanding its electronic tagging capacity, as a penal policy review group completes a long-awaited report for the justice minister.

Prison bosses have issued a tender for the provision of 50 electronic monitoring devices — up from the current number of 10.

The tags are, so far, mainly used in order to save on supervision costs for inmates who need to go to hospital for treatment or surgery.

But the forthcoming report of a high-level penal policy group — which is examining sentencing and alternatives to custody — may recommended extending tagging as part of a system to remove certain offenders from jail.

The Sexual Offences Bill, which is currently being drafted, will also allow for the tagging of sex offenders in certain circumstances.

Under its 2012-2015 prison plan, the Government is releasing, on average, 400 inmates every year under a structured temporary release programme, involving supervision by the Probation Service.

The decision by the Prison Service to purchase a further 50 monitoring devices is an endorsement of the technology.

Under the system a private company attaches the tag to an inmate before he leaves the prison — typically to go to hospital — and monitors any movement.

Sources said that if a tag is tampered with in any way it sends a signal to the company, which can respond.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald told the Dáil that the contract had been effective from March 2013 and had been extended until July of this year.

She said this involved 10 units and their monitoring at a cost of €29,000.

She said there were just two offenders on conditional release with an electronic tag.

She confirmed that the Prison Service was running a further tender process for the provision of 50 tags and that the new contract would be in place shortly.

Ms Fitzgerald told deputy Denis Naughten that the use of tagging for hospital visits allowed for “a significant reduction in staffing costs”.

The justice minister added: “In considering any prisoner for temporary release, under the specified conditions relating to the management of the electronic monitoring process, public safety remains the primary operational consideration.”

The minister said electronic tagging was also being suggested or examined in other forums.

“Last December, the Government approved the drafting of a wide-ranging Sexual Offences Bill,” she said.

“The general scheme of the bill includes provisions for the electronic monitoring of convicted sex offenders in specific circumstances. This legislation is currently being drafted.”

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