Published on 14 Jun 2012 Sections

Doubts cast over tagging as government calls for extension

More than half of all criminals forced to wear electronic tags break the terms of their curfews, according to a new report.

More than half of all criminals forced to wear electronic tags break the terms of their curfews, according to a new report.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP) has found that 59 per cent of tagged offenders receive a warning, with more than a third sent back to court following more serious violations.

Chief Inspector Liz Calderbank said she was most concerned that in a fifth of cases where there were violations, inspectors were unclear who was in charge of tagging arrangements.

In March, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke set out proposals to extend the use of tagging as part of an overhaul of community sentences. The courts’ use of tagging has more than doubled in the last six years, with 80,000 offenders tagged in 2010/11.

Tagging has become a massive, profitable industry. Tagging companies often have a vested interest in its expansion. Harry Fletcher, Napo

But another report, from the probation union Napo, said a thorough review was needed before tagging was extended any further. There was no evidence tagging helped to reduce offending, the union said.

Harry Fletcher, Napo’s assistant general secretary, said: “Tagging has become a massive, profitable industry. Tagging companies often have a vested interest in its expansion as those tagging companies are increasingly running jails, which is where those on the tag end up if they are in breach.”

HMIP also found that offenders could break the terms of their curfew for up to two hours before receiving a warning, and for a total of four hours over numerous occasions before court action was considered.

Ms Calderbank said that telling offenders they were subject to stringent conditions and leaving them to discover that they were not was not the way to change behaviour.

‘Virtually disappeared’

HMIP said home visits had also “virtually disappeared” for prisoners released early under the home detention curfew scheme, replaced by a simple telephone call.

Napo pointed to a case in Warwickshire, where a violent young offender was ordered to be tagged for eight weeks, but had still not had his tag fitted seven weeks later.

In Cheshire, there were problems with tags slipping off offenders’ legs, and in Durham, an offender’s tag was changed after problems with the technology, but he was later recalled for breaching the original tag that staff had replaced.

False leg

One offender tricked staff into tagging his false leg in 2011. Christopher Lowcock wrapped his prosthetic limb in a bandage and fooled staff when they set up the tag and monitoring equipment at his Rochdale home.

One of the firms responsible for tagging offenders, G4S, said: “The vast majority of interactions are completed without incident and equipment failures are extremely rare.

“Surveys undertaken with over 16,000 offenders found that nearly 90 per cent said that being on tag had stopped them offending, and more than 70 per cent had reduced alcohol and drug use as a direct consequence of being on tag.”

‘Useful role’

Ms Calderbank said: “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.”

Justice Minister Crispin Blunt said: “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.”

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