Monday 5 December 2016

Setback in plans for electronic tags as 'significant limitations' found

Published 09/11/2015 | 02:30

Minister Frances Fitzgerald plans to introduce tagging
Minister Frances Fitzgerald plans to introduce tagging

Justice officials admit their plans for electronic tagging as part of the battle against burglary will have "significant limitations".

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The Department of Justice has studied the Scottish experience, where a pilot scheme found that electronic monitoring as a condition of bail did not increase public safety perceptions or reduce the custodial remand population in any significant way.

As part of the new Bail Bill, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald intends to make it possible for gardaí to request that alleged burglars are electronically tagged as part of their bail conditions.

The Criminal Justice Act 2007 already makes provision for the possible introduction of electronic monitoring as a condition of bail at the discretion of the court. However, due to concerns about the "operation effectiveness of untargeted electronic monitoring", it was never brought into operation.

In response to a series of questions from the Irish Independent, the department said it should be noted that tagging "does not prevent a person committing a serious offence".

"The equipment can be subject to technical failures and blind spots," a spokesman said, adding that there was also potential for equipment to be removed.

Another concern is that suspects on bail would not be monitored in real time as this is "not feasible". Most jurisdictions use historical data.

A report on the Scottish pilot scheme found that electronic monitoring for persons on bail was more expensive than custodial remand. Ultimately Scotland decided not to introduce this form of monitoring on a national basis.

However, Ms Fitzgerald maintains that "monitoring of a limited number of high-risk persons on bail has potential" in reducing re-offending.

Independent TD Denis Naughten, who has tabled a series of parliamentary questions on the issue, criticised the Government for delaying the introduction of tagging at a time when 33 burglaries a week are being committed by people on bail.

He rejected the Scottish view that it was not a cost-effective way of reducing crime.

"Tagging is far cheaper than having to tie up valuable Garda time and court resources and custodial capacity in securing a prosecution for repeat offenders. Never mind the impact that this has on the victims of crime, who may require the support of the health services," the Roscommon TD told the Irish Independent.

The State already has 60 tags in its possession, 50 of which are in storage.

Ten are used by the Prison Service for prisoners given conditional temporary release to attend medical appointments and treatment.

According to the Department of Justice this "is found to be cost effective in terms of the savings in prisoner escorts".

Meanwhile, the Irish Independent has learnt that Ms Fitzgerald paid a private visit to the South Eastern Region last week to be briefed on a local Garda initiative that has been targeting rural crime.

Ms Fitzgerald met chief superintendents from Carlow/Kilkenny, Tipperary, Wexford and Waterford, during which she received an update on an operation codenamed 'Storm' which targets burglars.

It was set up in Carlow/Kilkenny to target burglary gangs and other criminal elements before being subsumed into the new nationwide Garda plan to tackle rural crime, known as 'Operation Thor'.

"The minister inquired about how 'Storm' went after travelling criminals and how resources were pulled together in the area," said a source. It is estimated there has been a 28pc reduction in crime in the area.

Gardaí told the Irish Independent that as part of 'Storm', 36 searches were conducted, 32 arrests were made, 92 warrants were executed and 263 checkpoints were conducted between September and November 4.

"It was designed to complement existing Garda activity, aid community cooperation, reduce the perception of fear in rural and isolated communities and provide ongoing support to victims," said a spokesman.

Irish Independent

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