COLUMN: Tags can help us reform offenders

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Aside from reducing overall crime, the biggest challenge facing modern forces is how we manage those people who offend – time after time.

A prison sentence by itself is unlikely to break the cycle of crime for career criminals and there’s some evidence that it can even be counterproductive to long-term reform.

But there’s always a balance to strike between keeping the public safe and giving offenders the opportunity to change.

GPS electronic tagging offers us a wealth of opportunity in this respect and can alleviate many of the risks of community-based intervention strategies by providing some offenders with the chance to reform their behaviour under controlled conditions.

While a tag won’t replace the will to ‘go straight’ it can work hand-in- hand with other rehabilitation approaches. GPS-tagging is not new to Nottinghamshire, but now the scope is about to change thanks to the force being accepted to take part in a 12-month pilot scheme overseen by the Ministry of Justice. I was delighted when the force was announced as one of just eight forces selected. It will enable us to build on our work to date with this type of technology which I have found so very effective.

Over the next 12 months, these tags will be used to monitor the movements of specific offenders with court-imposed bail conditions, community and suspended sentence orders and in parole board cases. The tags, which are fixed to offenders’ ankles, can also be used to enforce exclusion zones.

I believe that tagging has a lot to offer in term of crime reduction, community safety and helping people to stay out of trouble. The trial will assess how offenders behave whilst they are tagged and how decision makers use the tags. It will provide essential learning to support the upcoming rollout of GPS technology across England and Wales. The advantages of such a move are obvious in my view and I’m keen to see what effect this trial has on offender management and criminal behavioral patterns.

We are continually looking for safe and robust alternatives to custody. Prison is not only expensive but it can inhibit or prevent the progress of community-based rehabilitation which is vital for long-term change.

Although I wouldn’t want to prejudge the results of this trial, it strikes me that such effective monitoring capabilities could greatly enhance enforcement of curfews and banning orders, particularly in respect of low-level domestic violence cases where victim safety is an ongoing consideration.

There is a great deal of support within the business community for greater use of electronic tagging and I’m sure they will share my gratitude that Nottinghamshire is involved with this pioneering research. I look forward to sharing the results in due course.