Public Accounts Committee Report Condemns Government Electronic Tagging Strategy

HM Prison & Probation Service launched an electronic tagging programme to improve efficiency and increase the usefulness of tagging for police and probation services, but after significant setbacks and delays the failure has cost taxpayers dear.

Tagging allows the police, courts, probation and immigration services to monitor offenders’ locations and compliance with court orders, and act if offenders breach their requirements.

There are three main types of tags: radio frequency tags which monitor whether offenders have remained at home during their curfew period; combined radio frequency and global positioning system (GPS) tags which track offenders’ locations and movements; and alcohol monitoring tags which monitor alcohol concentrations in offenders’ sweat.

HMPPS, an executive agency of the Ministry, is responsible for tagging. It delivers the service through four suppliers, including Capita which runs the live service and G4S which supplies tags. As at March 2022, around 15,300 people were tagged.

Its high-risk and over-complicated delivery model, poor oversight of suppliers, overambitious timetable and light-touch scrutiny from the Ministry of Justice all contributed to its failure to introduce a new case management system, which underpinned the intended benefits and transformation.

These avoidable mistakes wasted £98 million of taxpayers’ money and left the tagging service reliant on legacy systems that needed urgent remedial action, costing a further £9.8 million.

In 2006, the Public Accounts Committee found that there was insufficient evidence available to determine whether tagging helped to reduce re-offending or promote rehabilitation.

Despite this, HMPPS expects to monitor an additional 10,000 offenders over the next few years, bringing the number of people who are tagged to around 25,000 offenders and those on bail restrictions.

It is delivering projects to expand the service to new types of offenders while undertaking a major re-procurement of contracts to deliver the service, with the new contracts expected to be in place by January 2024. It expects to spend £1.2 billion from 2021–22 to 2030–31, including £55 million for the re-procurement, £232 million for expansion projects and £808 million for the live service.

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Image credit: “Electronic monitoring to cut reoffending” by Scottish Government is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.