Government to spend £183m doubling number of electronically tagged offenders

By 2025 more than 25,000 people will be tagged with devices tracking their movements and, in some cases, alcohol consumption

Credit: Jérémy-Günther-Heinz Jähnick/CC BY-SA 3.0

The government has unveiled plans to spend £183m over the next three years to nigh-on double the number of offenders required to wear electronic angle tags.

Currently, a tally of about 13,500 people across England and Wales are tagged at any given time. The ambition is to increase this to more than 25,000 by 2025.

This will include tagging 10,000 “prolific robbers, thieves and burglars”, many of who, as part of a scheme launched earlier this year, are now automatically tagged at the end of a custodial sentence of 12 months or more.

That programme, which is now in effect across half of England and Wales, is intended to reduce recidivism rates for theft and burglary, with more than half of those convicted committing another offence within a year, according to the government.

The first conviction resulting from the geolocation data being gathered by the tags was recently recored, and the scheme is already “deterring others from reoffending”, the government said.

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“The intention is to roll out [the programme] nationwide, if successful at curbing crime and helping police catch offenders,” it added.

A further 3,500 GPS tags will be fitted to “high-risk domestic abusers”. As well as helping to protect partners and children that have already been subject to abuse, it is also hoped that “the tags may also help the Probation Service discover relationships that offenders are keeping secret, so they can alert new partners”.

In addition to the standard GPS tags, in the next few years government will also impose alcohol-monitoring tags on 12,000 prison-leavers. The so-called sobriety tags, which were issued nationally for the first time last year after the completion of two trial schemes, can monitor the wearer’s sweat and detect the presence of alcohol.

These will be fitted to convicts “known to commit crimes when under the influence… helping keep them off alcohol altogether or limit their drinking to reduce the risk of them reoffending”.

As part of the investment package, a dedicated £19m fund will be created to explore how existing technology could be used to prevent crime, as well as supporting the development of new types of tag. The government said that devices that could monitor a wearer’s intake of illegal drugs are “an area of particular interest”.

Justice secretary Dominic Raab said: “This major increase in high-tech GPS tagging will see us leading the world in using technology to fight crime and keep victims safe. From tackling alcohol-fuelled violence and burglary to protecting domestic abuse victims, we are developing tags to make our streets and communities safer.”

The plan to increase the use of tags strikes a contrast with the situation created by the government during the early months of the pandemic. In a bid to expedite the release of some inmates – and enable some degree of social distancing to be observed in prisons –  £3.8m was spent across two supplier contracts signed in April 2020 covering the supply of an additional 2,000 tags. 

Two months later, only 79 prisoners had been freed out of a total of 4,000 that been identified for the early-release scheme. At which point prisons minister Lucy Frazer admitted that government was “considering alternative uses” for the additional tags it had acquired.


Sam Trendall

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