Prisoners to be electronically tagged to stem rising number of inmates

Electronic tagging for minor crime convictions will ease prison population which now stands at over 860 inmates

Electronic tagging of people sentenced to jail terms of not more than one year for minor crimes is being considered by government, MaltaToday has learnt.

Legislation is being drafted that will allow magistrates to decide whether a person handed down an effective jail term should serve time outside prison. The law could be presented to parliament as early as next month.

The system is being viewed as a means to help rehabilitation but it is also expected to ease some of the pressure from the prison facility, which has a problem of overpopulation.

Electronic monitoring will only be available to those convicted of crimes punishable by effective imprisonment of not more than one year, provided the offence committed does not carry a maximum jail sentence of two years, government sources said.

This automatically excludes people convicted over serious offences such as domestic violence, who will not be eligible to benefit from an electronic monitoring order. Bail is also “strictly excluded” from the proposal, the sources added.

But electronic tagging is expected to be introduced at law for inmates eligible for prison leave and parole, allowing the Correctional Services Agency to better monitor their whereabouts.

“Electronic tagging will give the community greater peace of mind for cases that involve inmates who are already eligible for prison leave and parole but it will also stop people convicted of minor crimes from stepping into the Correctional Facility, facilitating their reintegration into society,” the sources said.

The remote monitoring technology has been used by the Correctional Services Agency over the past year-and-a-half in a pilot project. In December 2019, eight low-risk prisoners were tagged and granted prison leave to spend Christmas with their families in the first experiment with the system.

However, now, tagging will be grounded at law and will also serve as a replacement to jail for some crimes.

An electronic ankle band will allow the authorities to know where the person is on a 24/7 basis. The system automatically raises the alarm if the individual breaks any geographical limitations imposed on them.

“We have had cases of people found guilty of a minor crime and sentenced to six months in prison and in the process losing their job or missing their studies. In this way, these individuals will still be able to function in society with the community having peace of mind that the authorities can track their every movement,” the sources said.

Anybody who breaches the conditions imposed by the electronic monitoring order will serve the original jail term and any other additional penalty imposed by the court.

Electronic tagging has long been mooted in judicial and penal circles as a means to alleviate the burden on the prison facility.

The Corradino Correctional Facility had a population of 864 by the end of December 2020, including 56 female inmates, information tabled in parliament showed. Almost a third of inmates were still awaiting trial or sentencing.

The overall European imprisonment rate – the number of persons in prison per 100,000 inhabitants – fell again slightly in 2020, consolidating a trend that started in 2013, according to the Council of Europe’s Annual Penal Statistics on Prison Populations for 2020.

But Malta had the highest growth rate in incarceration between 2019 and 2020 (15.2% increase), followed by Cyprus (13.1%), Iceland (11.7%) and Croatia (10.3%).

Malta was also within the top five of countries with the highest proportions of foreign inmates: Luxembourg (73.9%), Switzerland (69.6%), Greece (57.8%), Austria (53.1%), Malta (51.5%), followed by Catalonia in Spain (46%), Belgium (43%), Estonia (33.3%), Italy (32.5%), Denmark (30.1%) and Norway (29.2%).

Malta has 25.2% of its prisoners convicted for drug-related offences. The highest rates were in Latvia (44.2%), Iceland (34.6%), Italy (31.5%), Greece (29.4%), Azerbaijan (29%), Albania (27.9%), Cyprus (27.3 %), Georgia (26.2%), Estonia (25.8%), Turkey (25.8%) and Malta (25.2%).