Category Archives: Tagging
More than half of all criminals ordered to wear an electronic tag break the terms of their curfew, a review found today.
Some 59% of offenders ordered to be tagged by courts receive at least a warning, while more than a third are sent back to court following more serious violations, an analysis of more than 80 cases by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP) found.
But Chief Inspector Liz Calderbank said the most concerning finding was that in a fifth of cases where there were violations, inspectors could not even see who was supposed to be in charge.
Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke set out proposals to extend the use of tagging in plans to radically overhaul community sentences in March.
Their use by courts has already more than doubled in the last six years, with a total of 80,000 offenders being tagged in 2010/11.
This included 65,000 by courts and 15,000 who were released early from prison, costing some £100 million, about a tenth of the total probation budget – but the system is cheaper than the £45,000 annual cost of a prison place.
Use of the tags was up from a total of 51,000 in 2005/6, including 31,000 by courts and 20,000 post-release, figures in the report showed.
But the inspectors found court paperwork was unclear, illegible or wrong, leading to delays in enforcement or action having to be stopped once it emerged that the person who thought they were responsible had no legal authority.
The identify of the offender manager responsible for taking any action could not be established from the paperwork because it was often unclear whether it was a single requirement order, for which the tagging firms were responsible, or one with multiple requirements, for which the probation service were responsible.
“This is why we are so concerned about the lack of court administration,” Ms Calderbank said.
It also emerged that offenders could break the terms of their curfew for up to two hours before even receiving a warning, and for a total of four hours over numerous occasions before court action was considered.
And breaking the curfew for 11 hours and 59 minutes of a 12-hour order would still only count as a less serious violation, the report said.
Ms Calderbank said that telling offenders they were subject to stringent conditions and leaving them to discover that they are not was not the way to change behaviour.
She also warned that it was “deeply worrying” that the review found one case where a violent offender who had beaten his wife was sent back to their home address, despite the woman initially saying that she did not want him there.
He was later charged with common assault on his partner during the eight-week curfew period.
Ms Calderbank said these issues should be picked up in pre-sentence reports and assessments, but just 29% of the cases reviewed involved such a report, significantly down from 90% of cases in the last review in 2008.
In 2008, 28% of these cases included a home visit, but there was no evidence of any home visits in the latest review.
Home visits had also “virtually disappeared” for prisoners being released early under the home detention curfew scheme, being replaced by a simple telephone call, an analysis of a further 40 cases showed.
Prisoners could just arrange for their friend to be at home and agree for the offender to be released, Ms Calderbank said.
Asked if tagging was simply a cheap way to control people, Ms Calderbank said tagging should not be used indiscriminately, adding: “If you’re not actually managing their behaviour, it doesn’t matter what the cost of it is, it’s not cheap.”
She went on: “We think that electronically-monitored curfews can play a very useful role in managing people who offend in the community, whether they’ve come from prison or the courts.
“But we do think it needs to be looked at. We think they’ve got a lot of potential, but we don’t think that potential is being realised.
“Unless curfews are located as part of an overall way of working with offenders, that’s not going to happen.”
Justice Minister Crispin Blunt said: “New contracts for the provision of electronic monitoring services come into effect in April 2013.
“This will provide an opportunity to implement necessary changes, explore new technology and ensure it is used as effectively as possible.
“The call for a smarter, more integrated approach is very much in line with the Government’s initiatives in reducing re-offending and protecting the public.
“Properly administered new generation ‘tagging’ can impose a punishment, promote improved behaviour and give victims reassurance.
“This report helps illustrate the potential as well as providing lessons on how to improve current administration.”
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The danger is that the tagging is used as a one-size-fits-all approach.
“We are concerned at the danger of over-relying on technology at the expense of tailored support with staff contact and interventions that help people to change their lives.”
Home Secretary Theresa May said the findings of the review would be examined “seriously” and changes made if problems are continuing to arise.
She told BBC Breakfast: “This report from the Chief Inspector will be looked at very seriously but the Ministry of Justice has already been looking at the way that it tags people and at new contracts for tagging.
“It’s already been looking at how this system works and what the newest technology is that’s available in order to make sure that we can do what we want to do with tagging, which is important.
“I recognise that there are issues that the Chief Inspector has raised that will have to be looked at seriously.
“We will have to look at this report to see whether there are lessons to be learned and whether there are any changes to be made.
“If there are problems that are continuing to arise, then that will need to be dealt with.”
Converse has learnt that hi-tech new tags with GPS technology could soon be used to monitor the movements of offenders serving community sentences, and even to check whether they have been drinking.
The ankle tags would allow courts in England and Wales to impose curfews and restrictions stopping offenders from visiting particular areas like football grounds or pubs.
The initiative is part of a Government move to stop community sentences being seen as a “soft option”.
Changes are also planned to make it easier for courts to strip criminals of the proceeds of crime even if they are of relatively low value – such as a wide-screen TV – in the same way they are already able to seize luxury items such as sports cars and yachts.
Prime Minister David Cameron is launching a consultation to be led by Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke on the measures, which are likely to be mentioned in the Queen’s Speech in May, with legislation to follow in the latter part of the coming session of Parliament.
Mr Cameron said that introducing a greater punitive element to community sentences will make it easier to persuade the public that they are a tough alternative to prison in appropriate cases.
The move will inevitably lead to suggestions that ministers are hoping to cut prison numbers by increasing the proportion of offenders given community sentences, though Downing Street aides insisted this was not the primary motive for the proposals.
Mr Cameron said: “For too long, community sentences have been seen as, and indeed have been, soft options.
“This Government wants to change this and make them a proper and robust punishment.
“Criminals given a community punishment shouldn’t just be able to enjoy life as it was before during their sentence.
“They should pay for their crimes and I am determined to see this happen.”
Most electronic tags currently in use in the UK have a simpler design, with a base station connected to a mains electricity supply in the offender’s home. If the tag is not within range of the base during working hours, the authorities are automatically alerted, but the tag cannot tell police where an offender has gone when he is not at home.
New-style tags with global positioning satellite (GPS) technology have been trialled in Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, allowing law enforcement authorities to track the movements of tagged offenders and giving them the option of being alerted if they go into a particular housing estate, shopping centre or pub or if they leave their home area.
A different system, piloted in Glasgow, features a tiny needle inside the tag, which can repeatedly take blood samples from the wearer and alert the authorities if they show evidence of alcohol intake.
Justice Minister Nick Herbert said the most violent and disruptive drinkers would be given Sobriety Orders, based on a successful US trial. Offenders, monitored either through the tag or by regular breath tests at a police station, could face jail if they were found to have been drinking.
Mr Herbert said: “Alcohol-fuelled violence and criminality causes mayhem in our towns and city centres.
“These new sobriety orders will allow us to tackle this problem more effectively and demand that binge drinkers who commit crime sober up.”
Changes to the arrangements for seizing the assets of criminals like drug dealers would give courts the power to confiscate a wider range of ill-gotten gains.
Law enforcement agencies seized £161 million worth of assets from offenders across the UK in the year to April 2011 – the highest amount recovered in a single year since the introduction of key powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
But the bulk of such seizures involve high-value items, such as Ferrari sports cars, from major gangsters.
Ministers aim to change the law so that lower-level offenders could see the trappings of their crime-funded lifestyles – such as TVs and computers – confiscated.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “It’s strange that in their race to find more punitive measures the Prime Minister and Cabinet colleagues are ignoring the considerable success they have on their hands.
“Community sentences consistently outperform short jail terms and intensive supervision by police, probation and voluntary mentors are cutting crime. With public backing for community payback, why go for populist gimmicks?”
Mark Leech editor of Converse, the national prisoners newspaper said: “The fact is that all these gadgets will do is make private security firms more profitable – paid for by the public – without any discernible benefit in terms of reducing crime.”