More than half of criminals break tagging curfew
In the past six years the electronic tagging of offenders by the courts has more than doubled, and now involves 80,000 cases a year at a cost of £100 million annually. However, a review by the probation inspectorate has found that 59% of offenders ordered to wear electronic tags have breached the rules of their court-imposed curfews. Liz Calderbank, the chief inspector of probation, stated that enforcement regularly fell short of what the public should expect, and there was little evidence of tagging being used to prevent reoffending.
The concern raised is that electronic tagging has become indiscriminate, and is now used mainly as an additional punishment for petty offenders who would not normally be sent to jail. Calderbank drew attention to the need for electronic tags to be used “more creatively and more effectively”.
“This means providing targeted control and restriction, and helping individuals to change their offending behaviour,” she said.
A separate report by the probation union Napo raised concerns over the operation of the tagging system, which is privately run by G4S and Serco. Though not verified by the probation inspectors, the report contained accounts of faulty equipment, lack of proper monitoring of offenders and incidents of tags being fitted onto the wrong people. While monitoring company G4S said that “the vast majority of interactions are completed without incident and equipment failures are extremely rare,” Napo said it had received reports of 120 flaws and snags in the nationwide tagging system in the first four months of this year.
The reports follow proposals set out in March by Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke to extend the use of electronic tagging. This is set to be introduced next April under eight-year contracts that are estimated to be worth as much as £1 billion.
Justice Minister Crispin Blunt said: “This report helps illustrate the potential as well as providing lessons on how to improve current administration.” Nevertheless, the results do call into question the government’s plan to further expand the electronic tagging of criminals.
Keith Vaz, chairman of the cross-party Home Affairs Committee, said: “[T]he use of measures like tagging and curfews will be defunct if they are not monitored carefully and if violations do not result in a prison sentence. The public must be convinced that community sentences are an effective form of punishment.”