IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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Electronic Tagging "a technology in search of rationale" says Penal Reform Trust

6th May 2004

The Irish Penal Reform Trust has criticised today's comments by Justice Minister Michael McDowell that his Department is considering the implementation of electronic tagging of offenders. The Minister's comments were made during his address at the Annual Conference of the Prison Officers' Association in Ennis, Co. Clare.

"Electronic tagging is a technology in search of a rationale," said IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines. "While we agree with the Minister's concern at current prison costs and overcrowded conditions, there is little evidence to show that electronic tagging offers any viable solution."

"The evidence of cost savings from electronic tagging is inconclusive. Indeed, electronic tagging is not an alternative to prison in practice, as those most often placed on tagging schemes are low-risk offenders who would not normally be sent to prison anyway. This results in actually increasing costs where none existed before, and a widening of the net of those under the control of the prison authorities."

"There is undoubtedly a need to increase the availability of community-based supervision and sanctions," said Mr. Lines. "This was most recently highlighted in the Auditor General's report on the Probation and Welfare Service which criticised the Government for its continued under-funding of these programmes. Electronic tagging does not address this need, but rather transfers scarce public monies to the private security firms who operate these schemes."

The Penal Reform Trust also criticised the Minister's announcement that he plans to expand the prison system by 800 places, noting that such a move would significantly increase prison costs. According to the Irish Prison Service, the annual cost of incarcerating a person for one year is €84,750. At this level, an additional 1,200 prisoners would cost the state over €67 million per year. Even using the more conservative incarceration costs found in newer Irish prisons (€72,000 annually), the total would still top €50 million per year.

"The Minister began his address today by saying that current prison budgets are not sustainable. How then can he seriously propose such a massive and expensive expansion of the prison system, and based on what evidence of need? The public is crying out for more hospital beds, yet the Government instead wants to divert scarce resources into the folly of new prison beds. The Government clearly has an interesting perspective on the notion of value for money."