Tougher community sentence regime could include advanced electronic ankle tags and greater seizures of criminals' assets
Criminals convicted of alcohol-related offences who avoid jail will be forced to wear "sobriety bracelets", which monitor drinking levels, under a tough community sentence regime ordered by David Cameron.
Amid concerns in Downing Street that community sentences are a soft option, legislation will be introduced in the Queen's Speech in May to ensure they include a greater punitive element.
The three key reforms identified by the prime minister are likely to lead to:
? An advanced electronic ankle tag, dubbed the "sobriety bracelet", that can detect whether an offender has broken a ban on drinking. The tags, which have been trialled in Glasgow, record alcohol intake by measuring an individual's air and perspiration every 30 minutes.
? A new generation of electronic tags which use GPS satellite technology to monitor the movements of an offender. This would allow monitoring round the clock rather than the current system which only confirms whether an offender is at a designated address at a particular time. The GPS tags have been trialled in Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.
? Greater seizure of assets of offenders. No 10 believes it is wrong that wealthy offenders can lose expensive belongings, such as sports cars, while the authorities appear reluctant to seize goods, such as televisions, from less affluent offenders.
Cameron said: "For too long community sentences have been seen as, and indeed have been, a soft option. This government wants to change this and make them a proper and robust punishment. Criminals given a community punishment should not just be able to enjoy life as it was before [doing] their sentence. They should pay for their crimes and I am determined to see this happen."
The decision to hold a consultation on toughening up community sentences will be seen as an attempt to step up pressure on Kenneth Clarke, the justice secretary, who has angered many in No 10 by adopting, in their view, an overly lenient approach to crime. But Downing Street says the justice secretary, who has been involved in negotiations with No 10 officials, is fully signed up to the consultation.
More than 175,000 people have received community sentences in the past year. Offenders can be ordered to perform "community payback", which could involve unpaid work to improve a community by removing graffiti; take part in a training or educational programme; or go on a rehabilitation course after drug or alcohol misuse.
Crispin Blunt, the justice minister, said last month there was an "issue around public confidence" over community sentences. Downing Street is going further. One source said: "We want to make sure community sentences are not a walk in the park. They can be a little bit flaky."
No 10 has decided legislation, which would apply in England and Wales, will be needed to introduce a tougher punitive element to community sentences. The new system may have one benefit for Clarke, who is attempting to reduce the prison population in England and Wales to about 82,000 by the next election. Courts may impose fewer short-term sentences if they are persuaded tougher community sentences are similar to a jail term.