Caution urged at tagging of sex offenders

By Cormac O'Keeffe
Security Correspondent

The Oireachtas justice committee has expressed caution about using electronic tagging for sex offenders, saying evidence on its effectiveness is “mixed”.

The committee has published a detailed report on proposed legislation which aims to strength the notification requirements for sex offenders and provide a legal basis for the electronic tagging of sex offenders and the provision of information to the public about them.

In its report, the committee also recommends that:

  • Legal restrictions should apply to people who are given information about a sex offender – and they should face sanction if they breach that requirement;
  • Parents of child sex offenders should be subject to court parental orders regarding an obligation to monitor their child's notification requirements;
  • Sex offenders should be obliged to informed gardaí of all addresses where they regularly stay and not just their home address.

The General Scheme of the Sex Offenders (Amendment Bill) 2018 was published by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan last June. The Oireachtas justice committee conducted pre-legislative scrutiny of the bill in public hearings last November.

The committee's report said that research on recidivism among sex offenders indicates that they are less likely to re-offend than other criminals.

CSO data shows that between 14% and 21% of sex offenders reoffend within three years – but almost all are for other crimes.

That compared to an overall recidivism rate of between 45% and 51%. Of the 250 sex offenders examined, only one committed a further sexual offence.

The report said the data should be treated with caution as it only captures known reoffending – saying that sexual offences are “under-reported”.

The proposed bill will allow gardaí to apply for electronic tagging orders for sex offenders in order to monitor their movements.

Currently, there is limited use of tagging of offenders released from prison, with a total of 59 prisoners tagged by the Irish Prison Service in 2017, at a cost of €166,000.

The committee said while tagging is used in most European countries “evidence for its effectiveness is mixed”. It said the lack of clarity “becomes more problematic” when the cost is considered.

In its recommendation, it said: “Given the financial investment required, the Department [of Justice] may wish to assess, in light of international evidence, how successful the proposed measures are likely to be in achieving their policy aim (ie reduced reoffending).”

The bill also proposes putting a legal basis to the current ability of Gardaí to provide information regarding sex offenders to members of the public.

The committee said there should be a provision prohibiting a person who receives information from gardaí about a sex offender to spread it – and be subject to sanctions if they do.

It backed measures to strengthen requirements on sex offenders to keep gardaí notified of their movements and addresses.

It called for parental orders, as seen in Britain, whereby parents of child sex offenders are legally required to monitor their child's compliance with notification requirements.

The committee also recommended that sex offenders be obliged to inform gardaí of all addresses where they regularly reside and not just their home address.

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