The Government is proposing a law to give courts the power to tag sex offenders, despite the Irish Prison Service abandoning electronic tagging because of value for money concerns.
This comes as new figures, seen by RTE's Morning Ireland, shows more than €1 million was spent on the electronic monitoring of 151 prisoners since 2014.
Figures, released by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, in response to a parliamentary question on prisoner tagging by Laois/Offaly Independent TD Carol Nolan, show that between 2014 and 2021 a total of €1,085,759 was spend on the electronic monitoring of 151 prisoners.
Since 2018, more than half the total money - €562,291 - was spend tagging 37 prisoners.
In comparison, between 2014 and 2018, it cost €523,468 to tag 114 prisoners.
This means each prisoner was tagged between 2014 and 2018 at an average cost of €4,591, compared to an average cost per prisoner of €15,197 between 2018 and 2021.
Total cost of electronic monitoring by year:
2014 - €73,961
2015 - €153,682
2016 - €129,708
2017 - €166,117
2018 - €221,790
2019 - €166, 538
2020 - €139,512
2021 - €34,451
Total cost - €1,085,759
The Irish Prison Service no longer uses electronic monitoring.
It said in a statement: "Following a review in 2020, the Irish Prison Service, in consultation with the Department of Justice, decided not to renew the contract for electronic monitoring in January 2021".
The minister’s parliamentary response states electronic tagging was abandoned by the prison service because due to a number of factors including an assessment of value for money.
"The Irish Prison Service published a tender for the provision of electronic tagging and monitoring of prisoners in 2019. I am advised that one response was received from the incumbent company, which met all technical and operational criteria," Minister McEntee said.
"A submission recommending discontinuing the use of electronic monitoring, due to a number of factors, including the assessment in terms of the overall value for money, was carefully considered and decision not to proceed to tender award stage was communicated to the tender applicant in January 2021," the minister added.
This comes as a law proposed by the Government will give courts the power to electronically tag sex offenders if it is approved.
The Government recently approved a proposal by the Minister for Justice to publish the Sex Offenders (Amendment Bill) 2021.
The bill completed committee stage this week and includes provision for a court to order an electronic monitoring device for a convicted sex offender who is subject to a post-release supervision order, or a sex order, that includes a condition restricting the offender's movement, post release.
"The aim is to provide our courts with a range of appropriate tools and interventions to monitor and reduce the risks posed by sex offenders, to facilitate rehabilitation and to protect the public," Ms McEntee said.
"There is some evidence that electronic monitoring can be effective in respect of sex offenders when used for a short duration in tandem with other interventions, such as probation supervision and this is what I am proposing in the bill," she said.
The minister added that a "pilot scheme will be introduced to explore costs and benefits once the legislation is in place. I will keep this matter under review".
A spokesperson said operational details of the how the electronic tagging of sex offenders will work will have to be carefully developed.
They added a pilot scheme would be introduced to explore costs and benefits once the legislation is in place.
"The operational details of how this will work will have to be carefully developed and take account of a number of factors, including cost, value for money, the technology, as well as the Council of Europe Guidelines.
"The aim is to provide our courts with a range of appropriate tools and interventions to monitor and reduce the risks posed by sex offenders, to facilitate rehabilitation and to protect the public.
"There is evidence that electronic monitoring can be effective in respect of sex offenders when used in tandem with other interventions, such as probation supervision and this is what is proposed in the Bill.
"It is envisaged therefore that a pilot scheme will be introduced to explore its costs and benefits once the legislation is in place. It would be premature to go into any further detail about the operation of the proposed provisions at this current time," said the spokesperson for the Department of Justice.
Cost of tagging not value for money - IPRT
The Irish Penal Reform Trust said the cost of €1,085,759 to tag 151 prisoners does not represent good value for money.
"It is a very high cost indeed particularly when one considers the relatively low numbers of prisoners who were actually monitored in this way," said Molly Joyce, acting executive director of the IPRT.
"If we are going to spend significant amounts of money - such as those mentioned here - we need to be very clear that they are effective in reducing reoffending," she said.
Ms Joyce said the IPRT has concerns over the Sex Offenders (Amendment Bill) 2021.
"I think that it is going to be really important that the factors that led to the decision of the prison service to discontinue electronic monitoring measures are looked at in detail and considered in any future proposals to extend electronic monitoring," she added.
"It is important to say that the evidence on electronic monitoring internationally is very mixed. What is show is that if electronic monitoring is going to be used that it is most effective alongside proper supports and supervision.
"Those services obviously require investment. In particular we in IPRT would often see that under-investment in things like psychological supports, mental health supports in prisons with people waiting on waiting lists for access to those services.
"It is important that if we are going to invest in electronic monitoring as a tool that that is not at the expense of investment in other programmes that we know can work for rehabilitation," Ms Joyce said.
Ms Nolan, who submitted the parliamentary question on electronic tagging and monitoring to the Minister for Justice, has concerns about the cost of tagging prisoners since 2014 but said it is important to make society safer.
"It is actually the costs that are standing out. Many of us, particularly female TDs, have called along with our male colleagues for more measures to be taken in terms of making sure that society is safe for women," she said.
She added she supported electronically monitoring sex offenders.
"What we need to look at here is what ever the most effective measures are and we need to adopt them. We need to adopt more measures than just electronic tagging," Ms Nolan said.
She called for more clarity from Minister McEntee on how the operation of tagging would work for sex offenders.
"I am hoping that we will get more clarity from the Minister in terms of what approach will be adopted here. I think there are many, many questions to be answered.
"What we need to look at here is that if any sort of a system is deemed to be effective then that is good. We need to make society safer for woman," she said.