Quite puzzled by an article in The Sunday Times today with the headline
‘Prisoners on parole to be fitted with alcohol detector tags’
This is certainly news to me and quite possibly to the rest of the electronic monitoring community.
The article starts off stating that ‘Criminals will be banned from drinking alcohol when they are released from prison’. However, the article neglects to say how this will be accomplished. Present legislation has allowed Transdermal Alcohol Monitoring tags (TAMs) to be piloted in London by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. These are not GPS enabled as the article suggests nor are they currently authorised for use as part of parole supervision or indeed as part of supervision for those serving sentences of less than 12 months.
We do know that the government plans to expand the use of electronic monitoring in a bid to reduce the prison population but largely due to incompetence and changing the goal posts/obligations for suppliers etc the roll out of the long awaited GPS tags has been delayed and delayed. We may still have to wait until much later in the year until anyone other than MoJ staff are actually fitted with one.
The article suggests that tomorrow UK PM David Cameron will announce the authorisation of something that does not currently exist ie a GPS enabled alcohol monitoring tag to be used with groups of offenders ie Parolees for which legislation does not currently exist to make wearing these tags a condition of their licence. It therefore beggars belief that this is what Cameron will do and if he does announce this it is highly unlikely he will be able to deliver it anytime soon.
Even if everything was in place to roll out a system that as the article suggests would mean that ‘Thousands of prisoners will be fitted with tags and told to stay away from drink as part of the terms of parole’ how is that even remotely practical to enforce? Even monitoring 111 people through an 18 month pilot took a large number of dedicated people putting in some very hard work indeed to produce ‘proof of concept’. A small scale pilot to produce proof of concept is a long way from a national roll out and expansion to totally different groups of offenders.
Such a measure would not be about treatment or rehabilitation but be about restriction of liberty and punishment. It would impact disproportionately on the poor and persons with particular lifestyles whether or not alcohol had featured in their offending. The alcohol monitoring tags are larger and hence more visible than standard RFID tags and, for instance, you would have difficulty wearing work boots (or for women in particular to wear work boots or calf length boots) and you cannot take a bath with one on. This may well make getting a job and even undertaking work safely such as labouring or indeed getting clean afterwards a lot more challenging.
During the pilot suitability for the tags was carefully assessed and most of those found suitable were people who had committed drink drive offences. They are not suitable for those who are alcohol dependent.
There is also mention in the same article of ‘Smart Tags’ that are lauded as a means to ‘reduce the number of babies born and raised behind bars’. I am at a loss to know how this will be achieved. Are male and female offenders to be tracked like tagged wild animals in a breeding project and somehow kept apart to prevent sexual relations taking place?
The article also mentions the use of mobile phones in prisons that I have always thought is a security issue as unmonitored calls related to illicit activity are the problem. The suggested solution is for mobile phone companies to cut off their signal to prisons. This is technically very problematic and would almost certainly mean that prisons and the area surrounding prisons would become mobile phone dead zones. This would be very inconvenient for anyone living near a prison and could itself cause a security risk with communications limited to landlines alone.
I await Cameron’s speech and hope it makes more sense than this article does.