Government ‘considering alternative uses’ for £4m tags bought for early-release scheme

As of the beginning of this month, only 55 of eligible total of 4,000 prisoners had been let out under ECTR initiative 

Photo: PA

The prisons minister Lucy Frazer has said that the government is “considering alternative uses” for 2,000 electronic tags bought to support an early-release scheme – almost all of which have gone unused.

In early April, the government announced that, to help make space in prisons and thereby lessen the impact of coronavirus, it had identified 4,000 prisoners that could be freed under the newly created End of Custody Temporary Release programme.

To support this programme, contracts were signed with two new suppliers – Attenti EM and Buddi – to acquire a cumulative total of 2,000 electronic tags. The two firms joined Capita, which has been the main supplier of tags to the prisons system since 2014. 

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Frazer last week said that the government had spent £3.8m acquiring these extra tags, which can be fitted to newly freed prisoners to ensure conditions of their release are not broken.

But, as of the start of this month, only 79 inmates had been released under the ECTR scheme, according to a recent report from the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody, an arm’s-length body of the Ministry of Justice.

“Eligibility criteria and the convoluted process of early release are mired in complexity and risk aversion,” the report said. “The schemes are hard to understand, difficult to explain and close to impossible to deliver, even for a disciplined service like HM Prison and Probation Service.”

Such difficulties would explain the extremely limited uptake of the ECTR programme – which has resulted in government being left with almost 2,000 surplus tags, acquired at a cost of nearly £4m.

Frazer said: “Releases under the scheme continue and we are considering alternative uses for tags elsewhere in the criminal justice system in support of our ambition to make full use of the benefits of electronic monitoring technology.”

The prisons minister, who was answering a written question from Labour MP for Tottenham and shadow justice secretary, David Lammy, said that “the early release schemes were one element of that approach to containing the spread of the virus in prisons”.

“Given the unpredictable nature of the situation, a range of measures were introduced to provide a variety of tools that could be used to a greater or lesser extent depending on how the outbreak developed,” she added. “We have also worked to reduce numbers on remand, created extra cells, limited prisoner movements and jails have implemented ‘compartmentalisation’, meaning staff have isolated those prisoners with symptoms, shielded the vulnerable and quarantined new arrivals. These measures have helped to contain the spread of the virus and limit deaths significantly, compared to initial estimates.”


Sam Trendall

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