MoJ signs two new suppliers to provide electronic tags for early-release scheme

Government has bought 2,000 extra tags – but only prisoners 55 have been released so far

Credit: Arne Dedert/DPA/PA Images

The government has appointed two new suppliers to provide an additional 2,000 electronic tags to support the expedited release of prisoners – despite only 55 inmates from an eligible total of 4,000 having been let out during the first six weeks of the early-release programme.

In the first week of April, the government announced that, to help create space in prisons during the coronavirus crisis, 4,000 prisoners would be eligible for the End of Custody Temporary Release programme. Those let out would be released on licence and fitted with an electronic tag. They could then be recalled if any conditions of their release were broken.

To help support the scheme, prisons minister Lucy Frazer said that the Ministry of Justice has appointed two additional suppliers of electronic tags.

The MoJ signed a contract with UK firm Buddi on 7 April, while Israeli-headquartered Attenti EM was also recruited on 22 April. Each was appointed to a six-month deal – plus an optional 18-month extension. The companies will provide a cumulative total of 2,000 extra tags between them, Frazer said.

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“The services of these suppliers were contracted using the government’s existing Digital Marketplace G-Cloud framework and both have extensive UK and international experience in providing electronic monitoring technology,” Frazer said. “We are considering alternative uses for tags not required for the ECTR scheme.”

The vast majority of these tags will not have been required as yet. Giving evidence to the justice select committee a week ago, Frazer revealed that only 55 prisoners had so far been let out under the early-release programme. A further five have been released on compassionate grounds, while 21 pregnant women have also been released.

Frazer stressed that the ECTR was only one of a number of government measures designed to collectively free up around 5,500 prison spaces in total. 

About 3,000 extra spaces have already been created by processing those who have already completed their sentence while held on remand, as well as the decline in cases being heard in court – which has created a “natural fall-away” between the number of people being incarcerated compared with those being released, according to Frazer.

“Although the early-release scheme is an important part of the strategy, it is not the only part of the strategy,” she said. “The approach of our early release is a very careful system because we want ensure that we continue to protect the public.… we paused to make sure that our processes are really rigorous – and they are really rigorous. Because each person is individually assessed at prison level, and [also] looked at centrally.”

The prisons minister added: “We need to make sure, for example, that they don’t have domestic violence risks, that they don’t have safeguarding risks, and that they have a place to go to. This all takes time. We are confident that the numbers [being released] will increase. And 4,000 was the number of people that were eligible for this scheme – not necessarily the number who [would be] released. Because, of those that were eligible, we absolutely had to assess their risk.”

Frazer revealed details of the two new contracts in response to a written parliamentary question from shadow justice secretary David Lammy.

“Why has the government ordered 2,000 electronic tags for its early release scheme when it has only released 55 extra prisoners?,” Lammy said, on Twitter. “The MoJ has barely acted on the early release measures it previously said were necessary to protect the NHS and save lives. Labour wants the government to succeed in stopping prisons from becoming Covid-19 hotspots. It should publish the scientific advice that supports its sudden change in strategy.”

Attenti EM and Buddi will join Capita which, in 2014, was appointed as the primary supplier on a £250m six-year contract to deliver electronic tagging to the UK justice system. 

Buddi had been in place as a preferred bidder for the section of that contract that related to development and rollout of a system of GPS tags. But the company pulled out of the process before the deal was awarded, after clashing with the MoJ over intellectual property issues.

The GPS section of the contract was ultimately won by Steatite – which was itself replaced by G4S in 2016. Airbus and Telefonica are also part of the electronic tagging deal, having been appointed to provide mapping and network services, respectively. 

The Capita-led contract reaches the end of its initial six-year term on 31 July.


Sam Trendall

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