The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced yesterday (9 March 2021) the first-ever UK pilot programme to tag perpetrators of domestic abuse with GPS tracking devices upon release from prison to better protect victims of abuse and address the behaviour of offenders. From yesterday, offenders who have served a prison sentence for a domestic abuse-related offence, such as stalking, harassment, physical abuse, sexual abuse and coercive control, will be tagged with a GPS tracking device as part of their release conditions.
City Hall is investing £260,000 in this pilot, which will run for a year across every London borough. It is the first programme of its type focused on tagging domestic abuse offenders and it will help police and probation services reduce the risk faced by victims of domestic abuse, children and future partners when perpetrators are released at the end of their sentence.
The pilot has been launched following consultation with the Violence Against Women and Girls sector and also aims to change the behaviour of perpetrators of abuse, acting as a deterrent and ensuring enforcement action can be taken if offenders break the conditions of their release.
It comes as figures show there has been an increase in domestic abuse over the last year, with calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline increasing by 49 per cent in the three weeks after the first lockdown on 23 March 2020. The Metropolitan Police recorded a six per cent increase in domestic abuse offences between March 2020 to December 2020 , compared to the same period in 2019. In 2020 as a whole more than 94,500 domestic abuse offences were recorded.
Domestic abuse offenders will be fitted with tags which will monitor their location, enabling probation services and the police to ensure offenders are following the conditions of their release, and take action if they breach these conditions or commit a criminal offence. This could include conditions such as not entering ‘exclusion zones’ which could cover the address of a victim, or ensuring that offenders are arrested if they breach a restraining order, as well as providing GPS location data that can be used to verify a victim’s account of any re-offending behaviour.
The new scheme builds on the work of City Hall’s GPS tagging pilot for knife crime offenders, which was launched in February 2019 and has seen more than 430 subject to GPS monitoring upon release from prison. It has demonstrated that GPS tags can play a key role in ensuring offenders comply with the conditions of their release from prison as well as ensuring that those who reoffend are swiftly returned to prison. During the pilot programme, probation staff specifically highlighted that introducing GPS tagging for domestic abuse offenders would be beneficial in protecting victims in domestic abuse cases. Following the evaluation of these pilot programmes, the Mayor has committed to investing a proportion of £8m of new funding for violence prevention programmes, in expanding GPS tagging of violent offenders after prison release.
The press release accompanying the launch included testimony from a number of probation staff about the value of GPS tagging:
Katie Nash, Head of Public Protection for the National Probation Service (London Division) said:
“This pilot gives us the opportunity to use technology to improve the management of the risk posed to past, current and future partners and children. The GPS tags will be an integral part of risk management plans as they enable us to monitor compliance with Licence conditions to improve victim safety.”
Lisa Watson, Probation Officer:
“The GPS tagging has been invaluable for cases where there has been ongoing domestic abuse concerns. I am notified immediately if someone breaches their curfew or exclusion zone, such as if they approach the victim’s home or place of work. I can then assess risk in real time and take immediate action to protect victims.”
Joel Hutchinson, Probation Officer:
“I used GPS as part of the Mayor’s Office for Poling and Crime pilot for a period of monitoring for a high risk offender being released from prison. The system was extremely effective, quick to arrange and once the offender was released, alerted me immediately of any concerns with regards to compliance and adhering to licence conditions. I was provided with a very useful weekly overview of movements, and if I contacted Buddi (the electronic monitoring provider), I was provided with prompt feedback to help manage any immediate risk concerns.”
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the images in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.