NewsCrime Desk

Bailed suspects to be fitted with electronic tags

Suspects on bail will be subject to electronic tagging for the first time
Suspects on bail will be subject to electronic tagging for the first time

Electronic tagging is being introduced for suspects on bail for the first time.

Suspects on bail will be subject to electronic tagging for the first time under a new law being proposed by the incoming Government.

Gardai will have the power to request a suspected offender wear a tag as part of their bail conditions.

Acting Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said provisions allowing for the electronic monitoring of suspects on bail would be included in the forthcoming Bail Bill "to reduce re-offending".

The minister also signalled that the dispersal of Garda stations would be reviewed by the new Policing Authority amid "deep concerns" about rural crime. The moves come against the backdrop of spiralling burglary rates across the country, with much of the crime being attributed to repeat offenders.

Although widely used in the North, electronic tagging has operated only ever on a pilot basis in the Republic, where it has been limited to a small number of criminals out on temporary release.

She said the bill would also allow for refusal of bail for repeat serious offenders and would strengthen Garda powers to deal with breaches of bail.

Officials in the Department of Justice have been examining the possibility of extending the use of electronic tagging throughout the past year.

However, exactly how the system will work, how much it will cost and who will conduct the monitoring has yet to be disclosed.

A spokesman for the department said that while there were "significant legal and technical issues" involved, it believed the targeted use of electronic monitoring would improve compliance with bail conditions in appropriate cases.

In the North, where around 1,200 people a year are tagged, the system is operated on behalf of authorities by private security firm G4S.

The system used there since 2009 can tell whether a person on bail is complying with conditions regarding where they stay at night. It is not used to track their each and every movement, but it can tell when an ankle bracelet has been removed or damaged.

According to an Oireachtas briefing document, it costs €6.45 per day to operate the equipment used on the pilot scheme for monitoring prisoners on temporary release.

However, the manpower and IT costs of monitoring the tags have not been disclosed.

The costs of operating such systems can vary greatly from country to country. In Norway, where tagging is used for prisoners on early release, the daily cost of operating a piece of equipment and monitoring is €100.

In comparison, the system used in Belgium has a daily cost per tag of €29, covering equipment and staff. In Denmark, it costs €56 per day for equipment and supervision.

Meanwhile, Ms Fitzgerald said she accepted "the very real concerns that exist in rural communities" following Garda station closures.

Speaking in the Dáil, the acting Justice Minister said she was firmly of the belief that tackling crime was "not just about the bricks and mortar of garda stations".

However, she said concerns over the geographical distribution of stations and potential inefficiencies in Garda district boundaries would be referred for review to the new independent Policing Authority.

Ms Fitzgerald also said there had been "an overwhelming response" in terms of applications for the new Garda Armed Support Unit for Dublin.

The 55-strong unit was promised in February in the aftermath of the Regency Hotel murder and subsequent gangland feuding in the capital, but has yet to be put in place. Ms Fitzgerald said recruitment was "progressing".

She also said there was no question of any reduction in the resources or overtime available to gardaí to combat gang crime.

Just how effective electronic monitoring is in terms of reducing re-offending is a topic of much debate.

Studies carried out in different countries have pointed to varying rates of success.

This is perhaps unsurprising, given that the type of offender being tagged and the period when monitoring is used - be it pre-trial, during early release or at some other point - can vary from country to country.

Successive empirical studies in North America and the UK over the past 15 years had found modest or minimal reductions.

The practice has proved much more effective in Europe, especially in Scandinavia.

Two main systems are in use internationally, one using radio frequencies and the other using GPS.

Both systems have been used as part of a pilot project in Ireland which was limited to a small number of prisoners on early release.

It remains to be seen which system the Department of Justice will ultimately favour.

Using GPS is significantly more expensive, but allows for the continuous tracking of tag wearers.

In comparison, systems based on the transmission of a radio frequency are more limited. They are generally focused on one specific location and are used to enforce home curfew, house arrests or to verify a person is present, rather than tracking their general movements.

Both systems allow for active and passive monitoring.

Active monitoring means each tag is monitored in real time, while in passive monitoring information relayed by the tag may not be analysed straight away and might only be checked at a particular point in a day.

The use of electronic monitoring is widespread around Europe, but the category of offender tagged varies from country to country.

In Germany, for example, some states use it as a pre-trial bail condition, for early release and for post-release supervision. It is most commonly used in some German states for people with convictions for fraud, theft and burglary.

Finland uses it for early release and monitoring in prison for crimes such as drunk driving.

Scotland uses it for early release, but also on juvenile criminal justice schemes.

An Oireachtas research paper on the issue indicates electronic monitoring works well in some scenarios and very poorly in others.

For example, a study involving violent prisoners in the US state of Georgia in the mid-1990s found no long-term impact on the levels of repeat offending.

The exact opposite was seen in a more recent study in Florida, conducted between 1998 and 2002.

It involved people convicted of serious offences, such as violent, property and drug-related crime, and showed an almost 95pc reduction in re-offending compared with offenders who were not given tags.

Shane Phelan

Via Herald/Independent