Government approves electronic tagging for sex offenders

Questions have been raised about the efficacy and costs of method of monitoring

Minister says 59 prisoners on temporary release were monitored last year at a cost of €166,117. Photograph: iStock

Minister says 59 prisoners on temporary release were monitored last year at a cost of €166,117. Photograph: iStock

 

The Government has approved legislation that will provide for the electronic tagging of sex offenders after they are released from prison.

At the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, a draft of the Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill was approved by Ministers after a memorandum was brought by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan. He has been working on the Bill in collaboration with Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, who has been campaigning for this legislation for six years.

The new Bill makes provision for the post-release supervision and monitoring of sex offenders. A central provision is that offenders who are deemed to constitute a high risk of reoffending or revictimising can be compelled to wear electronic tags to monitor and control their movements.

It will now be referred to the Oireachtas Committee for consideration.

The Bill also features a number of other measures, including a requirement that released sex offenders register with An Garda Síochána within three working days of release as opposed to seven under current laws. They will also be required to notify gardaí of any change of address. There will also be new requirements to provide basic information that is requested, in addition to photographic and finger-print identification.

The Government spokesman said tagging would occur “in limited circumstances”. He also said the Bill would prohibit sex offenders from working with children.

Efficacy questions

Electronic monitoring is already being used to monitor prisoners who have been granted temporary release. Provision for the use of tags was also included in stricter bail laws introduced by former minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald. Despite being in use already, some questions have been raised about the efficacy of electronic tags as well as their costs.

In a recent reply to a parliamentary question, Mr Flanagan said 59 prisoners on temporary release were monitored last year at a cost of €166,117.

“The contract requires a minimum usage of 10 tags. The Irish Prison Service currently have 20 tags available for their use and can avail of up to 50 tags if required,” he said.

As well as fitting the tagging devices, a beacon would also need to be fitted in the prisoners’ residence if a curfew was also imposed.

Electronic tagging devices were deployed 4,616 times last year, involving 59 prisoners at an average cost of €36 per deployment.

The arrangement for tags under the proposed legislation, as well as the Bail Acts (as amended) will be different.

“Providing courts with the option of mandating electronic monitoring in high-risk cases is something I have long advocated for, and indeed ensured was included in the programme for government,” Mr Naughten said.

Mr Flanagan said: “The main intention of these proposals is to manage the risk posed by convicted sex offenders and to prevent further harm.”