In the Media

Ministers have no idea how many tagged criminals breach curfews

PUBLISHED July 7, 2012

Two private companies are paid £100million a year to run the monitoring system for offenders who must spend up to 12 hours a night indoors, after being spared jail or released from prison early.

But the Ministry of Justice has said that their databases are "not designed" to calculate the number of times people under curfew orders go missing, or tamper with the ankle bracelets.

The admission comes after inspectors who carried out a small survey warned that as many as half of those fitted with electronic tags are roaming the streets yet escaping punishment.

Nick de Bois, a member of the justice select committee who obtained the information in Parliament, said: "Is it really too much to expect that the Ministry of Justice can find out how many people breach curfews or tamper with their tag?

"I am very disappointed that contractors were not required to have this information accessible and available on demand. Both the Ministry of Justice and contractors must do better in future."

Latest figures show that 64,420 offenders were placed under electronically monitored curfews in 2010-11 as part of a community punishment, with a further 15,278 given tags under the home detention curfew scheme after being released from jail.

Ministers intend to expand electronic tagging still further, with as many as 180,000 people facing being monitored 24 hours a day through GPS satellite systems.

At the moment the scheme works by the ankle bracelets worn by offenders being linked to a box in their house, which alerts the firms that monitor the scheme if they go outside at night when they are meant to be under curfew.

A highly critical report published last month by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation disclosed that in 81 cases studied, 22 per cent of offenders committed minor violations of the terms of their curfew and 37 per cent were guilty of serious breaches.

But now it has emerged that ministers are unable to find out from the two companies that run the £100m programme, G4S and Serco, the true scale of breaches.

Mr de Bois, the Conservative MP for Enfield North, asked in a Parliamentary written question how many criminals had breached their curfews or deliberately tampered with their electronic tags in recent years.

Crispin Blunt, a justice minister, replied: "The data are not collected centrally at this level of detail and it is not possible to provide this information except at disproportionate cost. The information is held within administrative databases by the two electronic monitoring contractors; however, extracting the data is complex as their databases are not designed to handle requests of this nature."

He added: "Negotiations are currently under way with bidders for the next generation of electronic monitoring contracts; these include proposals for improved provision of management information. The new contracts are due to commence in April 2013."