David Raho, a Probation Officer with London CRC (seconded to NAPO), is a member of the Institute’s Electronic Monitoring Group. He points to the success of the Alcohol Abstinence Monitoring Requirement pilot in London as evidence that, perhaps, EM’s time has come.
Any mention of electronic monitoring (EM) in its various forms is likely to receive a somewhat lukewarm response from probation practitioners. The main reason for this probably has its origins in the time when EM was first being mooted by the Home Office.
It was quickly realised that there were some strong reservations from a range of influential probation commentators not least the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) who were clear from the outset that being involved in EM ran counter to the social work values at the very core of probation work. That position has now altered somewhat and there are some growing signs that the debate around EM has become a little bit more reasoned and nuanced – but reservations and scepticism still abound, occasionally fuelled by headline news reports of improper behaviour by EM contractors sometimes followed by regurgitated media misrepresentations regarding EM’s actual use and real world capabilities.
However, I would argue that times have indeed changed and it is right that probation practitioners should be prepared to look at modifying their practice in accordance with the times and this includes being open to taking a fresh look at EM.
After all, the reality is that electronic monitoring has gradually become an integral component of probation work in many other EU countries and is often now used to assist in rehabilitation rather than simply as a measure to remotely monitor, control, and punish.
Despite having the largest national EM programme in Europe the level of integration with probation services and a sense of working in partnership towards reducing reoffending through rehabilitation is woefully lacking and we are arguably spending more and lagging behind others who use the available technology to greater effect.
It is my opinion that whatever role we might have in the criminal justice system, we should at least be curious about how probation practitioners in other criminal justice systems use EM, as research appears to indicate that they often do so creatively and with some reported success.
We might also take a bit more interest in – and in some cases celebrate – our own innovations in the use of EM, especially where it involves the probation service and others working together in partnership with other agencies such as the police service.
Understandably, in the current climate seeking a fresh reasoned debate with probation practitioners in particular concerning the possible introduction of new ways of using electronic monitoring and new EM innovations is something of a challenge. Even if the sweeping changes brought about by Transforming Rehabilitation had not taken place there would, it appears, be very little appetite for change as this has previously meant more work with fewer resources or being compelled to use IT systems that all are agreed are not fit for purpose.
However, a wider, reasoned ongoing debate about the use of electronic monitoring and indeed all technology that might conceivably be used effectively in relation to probation work, including the now much maligned use of biometric reporting kiosks, is long overdue.
It may therefore be of interest that a pilot aimed at proving the concept of electronically monitoring the new alcohol abstinence monitoring requirement (AAMR) successfully concluded in London at the end of July 2015.
This requirement, which was introduced by the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, may soon be available to sentencers for use in respect of those who meet particular conditions as part of either a Community Order or Suspended Sentence Order.
Those subject to monitoring via an AAMR must remain alcohol free for up to 120 days. The conditions that must be satisfied by the Court before imposing a requirement include that the offender is not alcohol dependent, consumption of alcohol featured in the offence or contributed to its commission and that monitoring by electronic or other means is available and in place.
These conditions are confirmed by a probation assessment. However, until the Justice Secretary is satisfied that matters can go forward, then only those courts in areas specified by the pilot can make AAMRs.
Compliance with the requirement is able to be monitored remotely at 30 minute intervals by means of an automated transdermal alcohol monitoring device that is currently worn on the ankle.
The device has a sophisticated array of anti-tamper provisions aimed at detecting attempts to make it provide inaccurate or falsely negative readings. The data collected by the device is either immediately transmitted (potentially in real time) via a base unit in the offenders’ home or when away from home test data is stored and then transmitted for upload upon their return. The monitoring devices are capable of monitoring the consumption of very small quantities of alcohol with a high degree of accuracy.
The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), which has been conducting the pilot with the assistance of London Probation (the pilot has been made possible by Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS) and Electronic Monitoring Systems (EMS) respectively), has been careful to adhere to the legislation that differentiates between the use of AAMRs and Alcohol Treatment Requirements (ATR). It was anticipated by legislators and those designing the pilot, including AMS and EMS, that the introduction of the AAMR had the potential to confuse sentencers who they thought would mistakenly believe that an ATR might be usefully combined with an AAMR to more effectively assist in addressing alcohol dependency.
Quite a lot of groundwork was therefore done with sentencers by AMS, EMS, and probation trained staff during the early stages of the London pilot in order to both explain what how an AAMR would work and importantly to explain to sentencers the operational differences between ATRs and AAMRs.
As a rule of thumb, ATRs are appropriate in cases where someone is alcohol dependent and commits offences as a result of being alcohol dependent or in order to maintain their dependence, e.g., shoplifts alcohol.
It is worth bearing in mind that some research indicates that when ATRs are properly resourced and organised, they are quite effective. AAMRs on the other hand are appropriate where the consumption of alcohol features in an offence and that the person concerned is not dependent but is assessed as likely to consume alcohol again and either repeat the same offence or commit a different one.
The obvious candidate for an AAMR is a person who works and keeps out of trouble during the week, but regularly goes out on Friday and Saturday nights and who has perhaps had contact with the police having been involved in some near misses and nuisance matters where alcohol has featured – and then commits a more serious offence after being involved in a violent confrontation, damaging property, or drink driving.
In this instance a Community or Suspended Sentence Order with a requirement of AAMR or other intervention proportionate to the severity of the offence or combined with other suitable requirements such as a relevant group work programme might conceivably be viewed as a positive aide to help them to address their offending.
However, in the majority of cases the imposition of a stand alone AAMR requirement might be seen as a purely punitive measure requiring those subject to it to refrain from an activity or lifestyle they enjoy for a specified period of time with the threat of greater punishment hanging over them if they do not comply. The challenge is perhaps to integrate AAMRs within a more rehabilitative framework.
All cases have been successfully managed by probation staff within the London CRC working in close partnership with AMS and EMS and the pilot is considered to be a success with over 91% of those 113 individuals being made subject to an AAMR for up to 120 days completing it successfully. Forty-four cases were community based orders with a stand alone requirement, whilst 69 orders contained multiple requirements with all cases successfully managed by probation staff within the London CRC. An average of 70 days of AAMR have been imposed per order. The latest report produced by Alcohol Monitoring Systems Ltd also confirms that between 31st July 2014 and 31st July 2015, there have been: 6,584 days of alcohol monitoring and 298,004 readings taken from the 113 AAMRs imposed.
However, although MOPAC had hoped that that AAMRs would be seen as a new measure for sentencers to use in tackling alcohol related offences linked to the night time economy – defined as those offences occurring after 8pm related to a commercial activity such as a bar, pub, late night food retailer, cab driver or similar – approximately only a third of offences resulting in an AAMR might be described in this way.
Most of those made subject to AAMRs were in fact drink drivers who may well have previously faced driving bans, a voluntary drink drive programme, and/or a substantial fine. This was not quite the demographic the Mayor was aiming to target meaning that those who meet the criteria and might usefully be made subject to an AAMR as an alternative to some other possibly less suitable disposal remain elusive.
As a result of the pilot’s success during the last 12 months a further six month extension has been agreed. Substantial progress has been made towards rolling out AAMRs across London and potentially across England and Wales, although much work will n
eed to be done regarding the nuts and bolts of implementation such as who the providers will be and the integration of AAMR with existing contracts.
The prospect of a wider roll out has also been given a further boost as the introduction of electronically monitored sobriety orders is a Conservative Party election manifesto pledge.
In the US, alcohol monitoring has been used for over a decade and is done a little differently reflecting the distinct aims and objectives of their various criminal justice systems and dominant treatment approach that usually favours complete abstinence above other approaches. This has even led to some criticism of the approach taken in London by US commentators as being overly liberal rather than insisting on total abstinence and imposing excessively punitive measures upon any failure.
It is hoped that those who have conducted the pilot have the courage to stick to their findings, including the observation that offering some degree of advice and support to those subject to AAMR both increased compliance and led to unanticipated positive outcomes, including service users making realistic statements about modifying their future drinking behaviour. Who knows what might happen if AAMR was always accompanied by some other form of intervention, such as brief therapy?
There are calls, from the police, in particular, to use alcohol monitoring technology as part of conditional bail. One scenario is to monitor the alcohol use of the perpetrators of domestic abuse as a preventative measure. Alcohol monitoring devices have also been use by parties involved in family court cases to prove that they are sober and have not been drinking when having contact with their children. There is scope to use alcohol monitoring on a voluntary basis as part of alcohol treatment requirements and also as part of post release supervision where alcohol use is strongly linked to risk of reoffending. Alcohol monitoring can also be built into biometric reporting kiosks.
There are a number of different ideas around about how to use available technology and therefore a real need for discussion about the desirability, legalities, and ethics of different uses so that probation practitioners’ contributions are at the heart of the debate.
It would be wrong to assume that any one organisation or profession has all the answers. But sometimes it is good to remember that we have a long history and still have a lot of personal and organisational experience in the probation service that, when engaged and brought to bear in relation to new innovations such as AAMR, can result in some very distinctive and promising developments of which all those involved can be justifiably proud.