Friday 28 October 2016

Jury is still out on the effectiveness of electronic monitoring system

Published 06/05/2016 | 02:30

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

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.

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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.

Irish Independent

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