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New UK Report shows Electronic Tagging an Expensive Failure, says Penal Reform Trust

26th April 2005

A new report has questioned the value of electronic monitoring of adult and youth offenders in UK, finding that the cost of electronic tagging by privatised security companies is twice that of supervising an offender by the Probation Service.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) says the report's findings call into question the Government's plans to introduce tagging schemes as part of the forthcoming Criminal Justice Bill, and has again challenged Justice Minister Michael McDowell to provide evidence supporting his plans to bring electronic monitoring to Ireland.

Published yesterday, Electronically Monitored Curfew Orders: Time for a Review was commissioned by Napo, the Association representing staff in the National Probation Service and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service in the UK. The report examines the use of electronic monitoring for both Curfew Orders and for offenders on early release. 

Among the report's findings:

  • It costs twice as much to electronically tag an offender as to supervise them by a member of the Probation Service.
  • The private security companies that administer the electronic tagging schemes do not routinely follow up violations by individual offenders.
  • The Government pays private tagging companies approximately three times the actual cost of each offender monitored.
  • Electronic monitoring does not reduce re-offending.

"The findings of this report are startling and pose a serious problem for the Government's attempts to sell tagging as a sensible component of criminal justice reform," said IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines. "The report particularly rubbishes Minister McDowell's claims of cost savings through privatisation, as not only is privatised electronic monitoring significantly more expensive than supervision through the Probation Service, but private companies are charging the State nearly triple the actual cost of monitoring each offender."

According to the IPRT, the report also supports the organisation's contention that tagging represents no real alternative to prison, citing statistics from the British Home Office that in only 15% cases was tagging used as an alternative to custody.

"The Home Office itself states that rather than diverting people away from prison, over 80% of electronic tagging orders were used for people who would not have received custodial sentences in the first place. This is consistent with research on tagging in other countries, and further undermines the Minister's claim that tagging offers an effective tool to reduce the prison population."

Said Mr. Lines, "Whether it is anti-social behaviour orders, privatised prison escorts, PPP prisons, or electronic tagging, this Government has repeatedly looked to the UK as a model for its plans to reform the Irish prison system. Unfortunately, it seems the Government's interest in the UK model does not extend to whether or not it works."

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