Prisons service scrapped tagging software platform after spending £100m

Ministry of Justice accounts reveal agency took decision to abandon development after delays meant the software became outdated

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

HM Prison and Probation Service spent £98.2m on a new case-management system, only to scrap it before it was finished, the Ministry of Justice’s annual report and accounts have revealed.

The platform was part of HMPPS’ Electronic Monitoring Programme, which sought to overhaul the electronic tagging system used to monitor curfews and conditions of court or prison orders. The software was meant to be ready in 2015 but there were significant delays due to its complexity and the need to integrate different suppliers’ work. 

Delays meant its development was outpaced by advancements in technology, changes to the way criminal justice agencies use tags, and the government’s overall electronic monitoring ambitions, the MoJ said.

The ministry’s annual report said HMPPS concluded the public interest would be best served by scrapping the development of the case-management system rather than continuing to invest in it. None of the expenditure will result in any future benefit to HMPPS, the report added.

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It would have cost £30m to finish the project, on top of the £98.2m already spent, the MoJ said, but there would have been just two years left to use it with current electronic monitoring contracts ending in 2024. HMPPS stuck with its existing software, which the MoJ said had “proven itself to be robust”.

An MoJ spokesperson said: “The public is better protected thanks to the GPS and sobriety tags we now have. The decision to stop work on this back-office system means we can invest the savings into doubling the number of people tagged by 2025.”

Electronic monitoring, also known as “tagging”, is used in England and Wales to monitor those on bail or probation. Plans to overhaul the system were launched in 2012.

HMPPS did deliver the other objectives of the Electronic Monitoring Programme, including making it scalable and flexible and introducing new GPS and alcohol-monitoring tags.

The MoJ’s annual report said permanent secretary Antonia Romeo had asked public-spending watchdog the National Audit Office to undertake an independent review into the programme and contracts with Capita, Airbus, G4S and Telefonica.

The report also revealed £4.6 million was wasted on the lease of additional electronic monitoring tags as part of measures to limit the spread and impact of Covid-19 in the prison estate. Due to smaller volumes of releases than anticipated, these tags were not required.

The latest write-offs follow well-documented failures in electronic-tagging plans, with the National Audit Office rapping the MoJ in 2017 for pursuing an “overly ambitious strategy which was not grounded in evidence”.

Two months ago, the government 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.

Other IT write-offs
HM Courts and Tribunals Service and the Crown Prosecution Service also wasted money on a new case-management system, the MoJ’s annual report and accounts showed.

The agencies spent £18.3m on elements of the new system which were no longer of use after the CPS reviewed the plans and changed the requirements for the new system.

Additionally, the annual report revealed £12.3m was spent by the MoJ on developing new technologies which have gone almost entirely unused due to a change in strategy.

The Technology Transition Programme was launched in 2011 but, in 2018, the plans were abandoned, with the department deciding to stick with legacy data centres running old equipment. Only small elements of the new hardware have been utilised.


Sam Trendall

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