Prisoner tagging up for debate as pilot study ends
OPINION is divided on whether a pilot scheme to electronically tag prisoners should become permanent.
A new and intensive assessment of the controversial scheme is to be carried out in the new year.
More than 20 offenders have taken part in an initial pilot scheme since the summer, and this has now come to an end.
But there have been teething problems, including one offender finding that his electronic tag had dropped off his ankle and on to the floor of a bus.
Studies elsewhere show that the scheme can be counter-productive.
The aim is to reduce costs by replacing personal supervision of prisoners allowed out on temporary release by monitoring their movements through electronic tagging.
However, in Scotland it is claimed that the scheme has resulted in an increase in numbers being committed to prison as offenders who remove their tags are jailed when they are re-arrested.
The most notorious participant in the tagging pilot scheme here was long-serving sex killer and rapist, Geoffrey Evans, who was chosen though he is in a coma.
Evans and his accomplice, John Shaw, were convicted of the murder, rape and torture of two young women in Wicklow and Galway in 1975.
They were both sentenced to life imprisonment in 1978 and are among the longest-serving prisoners in the State.
Evans (67) has been in a coma since December 2008, when he suffered a stroke while undergoing heart surgery.
Six officers had been operating a daily guard at his bedside round the clock for 16 months, costing the State around €1.5m.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said at the time he did not think there were moral or ethical issues involving in putting a tag on Evans, adding that the prisoner would benefit from not having the indignity of prison officers by his bed at all times.
All of the other participants in the scheme were considered to be low-risk and were selected from several jails around the country.
One prisoner was stepping out of a bus when he was tapped on the shoulder by another passenger and told he had dropped something on the ground.
He found his tag had fallen from his ankle and was on the bus floor.
Prison officials said those difficulties have since been resolved. But other technological issues have arisen with the use of the tags in certain areas, such as interference with other electronic equipment.
All of these issues will be taken into account in the new year evaluation exercise, before a final decision is taken on whether the electronic tag should become a permanent feature of the criminal justice system.