We know that this government is keen on imprisonment, it is after all investing £4 billion to create 20,000 new prison places and the prison population is expected to increase by almost a quarter over the next three years.
The governments tough stance on crime is not restricted to incarceration though. It is also increasingly keen on making an increasing number of offenders subject to electronic tagging as yesterday’s Electronic Monitoring Statistics make clear.
The figures which cover the year from 30 June 2022 to 30 June 2023 show that the total number of individuals fitted with an electronic monitoring device or an alcohol monitoring device as at 30 June 2023 was 17,822, an increase of 22% from 14,663 from the previous year.
The number of individuals fitted with an electronic monitoring device under a court bail order as at 30 June 2023 was 6,367, an increase of 14% from 5,579 as at 30 June 2022. Court bail accounted for 36% of all individuals fitted with an electronic monitoring device.
The number of individuals fitted with a location monitoring device (GPS) as at 30 June 2023 was 8,028, an increase of 67% from 4,799 as at 30 June 2022. This increase is the result of the continued rollout of electronic monitoring to new offender cohorts, particularly immigration bail. The rise in the use of GPS tagging for this group of people has been rapid – from 18 people in January 2021 to 477 in June this year. A total of 2,667 people whose immigration status was under question were placed on GPS tags in the most recent year.
The rise in the use of alcohol monitoring tags has also been rapid, to say the least. In the last year, the total number of individuals fitted with an alcohol monitoring device increased from 1,043 people to 2,285, an increase of 119%. This primarily reflects the national roll out of alcohol monitoring to the post-release cohort.
There were 9,349 new alcohol monitoring orders imposed across England and Wales in the year ending 30 June 2023. Overall 14,367 new alcohol monitoring orders have been imposed since their introduction.
Of the alcohol tags in use to monitor alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirements (AAMR) over the last quarter, between March 2023 and June 2023, the tags did not register a tamper or alcohol alert 97.5% of the days worn. Since their introduction in October 2020, the tags did not register a tamper or alcohol alert 97.2% of the days worn.
Tagging as part of a court sentence
By contrast, the number of individuals fitted with an electronic monitoring device and whose primary order type was a court sentence has decreased by 19% over the last year. There was a significant decrease between April 2022 and June 2022, which is likely to be associated with mandating domestic abuse and safeguarding checks in all cases where electronic monitored curfews are proposed from April 2022, and this decrease has continued over the last 12 months.
In my opinion, this growth in the use of tagging is more about the Government’s desire to appear tough on crime than any evidence base. The most recent National Audit Office report on tagging is critical of the performance of GPS tagging in particular, noting that the system is not doing what it promised.
HMPPS expected the Gemini case management system and the user portal to allow users such as police and probation officers to have self-service access to case information and to historic and real-time maps of offenders’ movements. Instead, users must request mapping data from Capita (the private provider) which creates a delay, and HMPPS cannot collect information on the timeliness or quality of the service.
Shockingly (if not surprisingly, given the track record of tagging in this country), HMPPS’s ability to carry out analysis and evaluation is severely constrained by the poor quality and availability of data.
HMPPS did not analyse reoffending and offenders’ diversion from prison as planned because of constrained resources. HMPPS estimates that to break-even from its investment in its expansion programme, it would need to divert around 5,000 offenders from prison or deter 9,000 repeat offences by 2025-26. However, the effect of tagging on these outcomes remains unproven and poor-quality data mean HMPPS is heavily reliant on anecdotal information.
The NAO (which reports that the MoJ had to write off £98m when it terminated the Gemini contract) concludes with a further warning that the lack of a proper evidence base means we do not know the value of electronic monitoring in protecting the public and reducing reoffending.
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the images in this post. You can see Andy’s work here