X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.spectator.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

Features

Playing tag

The technology is constantly improving – but the Ministry of Justice isn’t keeping up

26 January 2013

9:00 AM

26 January 2013

9:00 AM

The frustrating thing about tagging, or electronic monitoring (EM) is that it could so easily be effective — if only we did it properly. As a former police officer, I can vouch that Theodore Dalrymple is right when he says that it’s a relatively small number of prolific offenders who commit the majority of recorded crime. So if we used the right technology — if these criminals knew that any repeat offence would be almost certain to result in detection and punishment — then reoffending rates would fall. But although there’s a lot of potential in EM, I’m afraid the potential has been unrealised in this country. Ever since 1989, when we first started deploying EM as an alternative to prison and an aid to rehabilitation, we’ve got it wrong.

The Ministry of Justice is preparing to spend £3 billion over nine years on new EM arrangements. These urgently need to be better than those we currently have, but the signs do not look good. In September 2012, Policy Exchange published ‘The Future of Corrections’. Later that month, File on 4 reported into the finances of Serco, one of two UK tag providers. Its discovery of gigantic profits in Serco’s technology subsidiary aroused the interest of Margaret Hodge’s Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, which asked some hard questions about this apparent fleecing of the taxpayer.

These reports should have caused the MoJ to change direction. But I’m afraid the fact that they are preparing a nine-year contract suggests that they have not done so. Has nobody in the MoJ noticed that technology gets better and cheaper all the time? Why on earth would they give a nine-year contract to one provider? The MoJ has overseen a sclerotic, centrally controlled, top-down system that has enriched G4S and Serco (the UK’s duopoly suppliers of electronic monitoring), but lacks innovation and flexibility and does nothing to reduce offending. It is hideously expensive, costing thousands of pounds for each offender.

[Alt-Text]


No independent review of tagging in the UK has produced any credible evidence that it does any real good at all. Prison governors have halved their use of it in the past nine years, despite a huge surge in prisoners. Few people who manage offenders under the current tagging system have much faith in it.

But it does not need to be like this. Modern GPS tags can monitor the exact movements of offenders, placing them within metres of a location. Try burgling or stealing a car wearing one of those! Motion sensors in tags can even detect whether a banned driver is driving a car. Similarly, there is monitoring capability that can remotely oversee the internet behaviour of sexual predators, the breath-alcohol content of convicted drunk drivers, and the drug metabolytes present in known drugs abusers. This amazing technology exists right now and is constantly improving. This is not a dystopian vision of a controlling state, but could be a practical, humane way of managing the 25,000 or so prolific offenders nationally who commit huge numbers of offences when at large.

Prison is very expensive and short sentences are ineffective in changing behaviour. Intensive modern monitoring technology could work just as well. This, along with appropriate support, could give repeat offenders the external motivation they need to help them desist. Alternatively, if they continued to offend, the superior technology would make them more likely to be reconvicted and removed again from the community.

The rapidly falling cost of GPS telephony, fibre optic technology and data management (in the cloud) means that tagging technology is becoming very affordable. Within two years, it will be possible to monitor the movements of known prolific criminals 24 hours a day, at a cost of less than £200 per person per year. Within five years, who knows how cheap it could be? So why on earth is the MoJ preparing to pay about £3,000 per person per year for nine years? They urgently need to reconsider what they’re doing.

Chris Miller was assistant chief constable of Hertfordshire from 2008 until 2011 and Acpo’s lead on electronic monitoring in 2011.

Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.


Show comments
Close