Tagging is a well-established and widely recognised criminal justice tool. But how effective has it really been? Charlotte Pickles, Senior Research Director at Reform, explores the issues and makes recommendations for policymakers.
Tagging has been used as a criminal justice tool in England and Wales for decades. First piloted in 1988 to enforce curfews, by 2011-12 around 25,000 offenders were being electronically monitored each day. (1)
Whilst volumes have increased at pace, the creative use of tags has not. With the exception of a handful of locally-driven pilots, England and Wales has to date failed to harness electronic monitoring’s potential as an offender management tool.
There are two key barriers to realising its potential: a disastrous Ministry of Justice procurement and the need for legislative change. A third concern is the confusion over the evidence-base for tagging.
The College of Policing’s What Works Toolkit, looking at national and international evidence, concludes that “[t]here is some evidence that [electronic monitoring] has reduced crime, but overall the intervention has not had a statistically significant effect on crime.” In England and Wales it is true that the evidence-base is patchy. Evaluations of the early Home Office pilots found a higher completion rate for electronic monitoring (EM) curfew orders than community orders (71 per cent versus 83 per cent). (2)
A Ministry of Justice evaluation of Home Detention Curfews found a neutral impact of recidivism rates over a 12 and 24 month follow-up period.(3)
Recent small scale, and primarily voluntary, local pilots are showing positive results but do not have robust evaluations. Promising, but hardly game-changing.
The College of Policing’s conclusion, however, is based on decade-old research, and more recent evaluations from abroad create a much stronger case for tagging. A 2006 analysis of the impact of electronic monitoring on over 75,000 offenders in Florida, for example, found a 94.7 per cent reduction in the likelihood of revocation for a new offence compared to offenders not on EM. (4) A 2010 paper for the US Department of Justice, also looking at Florida, likewise found a positive impact: for offenders on EM there was “a 31% reduction in the hazard of a revocation or absconding from supervision”. (5)
An evaluation of the Californian programme for high-risk sex offenders found the hazard
ratio for any arrest for non-EM offenders was more than double that for EM participants. 6
The evidence from the US for both alcohol sobriety monitoring and the management of
domestic violence perpetrators is similarly positive. (7)
There is sufficient evidence that EM, used appropriately, can have a real impact on offender compliance and recidivism. The Coalition Government recognised this potential in their drive to procure the “next generation” of GPS tags. Sadly, more than three and a half years after launching the procurement no tags have been delivered. This is a key barrier to progress. With the exception of a small number of pioneering Police and Crime Commissioners, this has left local criminal justice services without the more advanced technology needed to realise the full benefits of EM.
The procurement process has been plagued by issues, from changing specifications to unreasonable intellectual property requirements, but the fundamental problem is the
As Reform’s recent report on the future of tagging argues, splitting the service delivery into four horizontal lots goes against international practice.
The single provider model also removes competition for the life of the contract (up to six years), damaging the market and reducing the likelihood of innovation. Worse still, the contract seeks to procure a single, one-size-fits-all tag. This ignores the fact that different localities want to prioritise different offender cohorts, and therefore, require different technology.
The Reform report concluded that the current procurement should be immediately scrapped and replaced by an approved suppliers framework – a model used elsewhere in Government. The Ministry of Justice should assure certain standards – for example evidentiary quality, technological reliability, price and security – but local commissioners should then procure the supplier most appropriate to their needs.
Crucially, local criminal justice practitioners should be able to access and use the data obtained through EM to develop personalised supervision regimes, and to prevent and detect crime.
As with procurement, legislation is a key enabler of EM. There are a handful of legislative reforms that could make a sizeable difference in realising the potential of EM.
Firstly, linked to the procurement, the statutory instrument that names the “responsible officer” in each police force must be changed. Naming a specific company is anti-competitive.
Secondly, the Bail Act should be amended to allow EM to be used as a condition of police bail. Thirdly, the relevant legislation should be revised to allow Magistrates to impose mandatory EM as part of a Domestic Violence Prevention Order, Non-molestation Order or Restraining Order. Finally, the legislation preventing Prison Governors from using early release on Home Detention Curfew for violent and sexual offenders should be amended. Collectively, these changes would enable a wider use of EM which, as part of a broader offender management programme, could help reduce offending and cut costs.
As the evidence shows, the prize for getting EM right could be substantial: increased public protection through increased compliance and decreased reoffending, swifter responses to breaches, and lower criminal justice system costs through reductions in prison time. The current procurement model and legislative framework are barriers to achieving these outcomes. The new Secretary of State for Justice should seize the opportunity to rectify this in his first six months.
Reform’s report is available to download from: www.reform.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Tagging-report_AW_ WEB.pdf
1 Ministry of Justice, Request for Information: Introduction and Background: Electronic Monitoring, 2012.
2 Isabel Walter, Evaluation of the national roll-out of curfew orders (Home Office Online Report 15/02, 2002)
3 Karen Moreton and Miguel Goncalves, The Effect of Early Release of Prisoners on Home Detention Curfew (HDC) on Recidivism (Ministry of Justice, 2011).
4 Kathy G. Padgett, William D. Bales, and Thomas G. Blomberg, “Under Surveillance: An Empirical Test of the Effectiveness and Consequences of Electronic Monitoring,” Criminology & Public Policy 5, no. 1 (February 2006): 61–91.
5 William Bales et al., A Quantitative and Qualitative Assessment of Electronic Monitoring, 2010.
6 Stephen V. Gies et al., Monitoring High-Risk Sex Offenders with GPS Report, 2012.L.
7 L. B. Edna Erez et al., GPS Monitoring Technologies and Domestic Violence: An Evaluation Study (National Criminal Justice Reference Service, 2012); Lee Axdahl, Analysis of 24/7 Sobriety Program SCRAM, Participant DUI Offense Recidivism, 2013, 24.