Electronic tagging of prisoners to proceed


THE DEPARTMENT of Justice is preparing to introduce the long-mooted system of releasing prisoners early into the community and monitoring their whereabouts via electronic tagging.

The legislation providing for tagging was enacted in 2006.

The contract to provide the new tagging system has now been put out to tender by the Irish Prison Service. Under one model set out in the tender documents, the company that wins the contract would supply the technology needed to tag and monitor prisoners via global positioning systems (GPS).

The company would also run the monitoring service and provide reports to the prison service on the movement of tagged criminals.

Under the second option, the equipment and technology would be supplied by the successful bidder, who would also provide technological support. However, the monitoring of tagged criminals would be carried out in-house by Irish Prison Service staff.

The prison service has not outlined any details around a cost ceiling or how many prisoners might be tagged. Instead, contractors are requested to outline the service they provide and to include a cost per tagged prisoner.

The tender process will likely be dominated by contractors from the UK and other jurisdictions where tagging is already in operation. The closing date for tenders is May 28th. It is unclear when the contract might be awarded and when tagging will begin.

It is stated in the documents that tags would be fitted to prisoners on temporary release.

Traditionally, temporary release involves prisoners being freed for short periods, to attend family events such as funerals or to prepare them for full release after long sentences. However, temporary release has become a much broader concept in the Republic in recent years.

At present there are 950 prisoners on temporary release, with about 4,300 prisoners housed in jails across the State.

Those on temporary release include prisoners who have been released early because there is no room for them in the overcrowded prison system.

There is no expectation that these prisoners will return to jail to complete their sentences. Instead their periods of temporary release are continually extended until the sentences expire.

This means any new tagging system could be used to monitor those currently on temporary release and also to facilitate the early release of many more inmates as a means of tackling overcrowding.

The new director general of the Irish Prison Service Michael Donnellan has already said he wants to significantly decrease the prison population. A former head of the Probation Service, he is regarded as a progressive thinker capable of modernising the prison system.