Thou­sands of crooks tagged in­stead of jail can’t be mon­i­tored

The Mail on Sunday - - NEWS - By Martin Beck­ford HOME AF­FAIRS ED­I­TOR

THOU­SANDS of crim­i­nals are to be spared jail and fit­ted with high-tech elec­tronic tags in­stead – but po­lice chiefs warn they can­not af­ford to mon­i­tor them and there are fears the pub­lic will be left at risk.

Un­der a £130 mil­lion scheme to cut the prison pop­u­la­tion, as many as 4,000 of­fend­ers will wear new GPS elec­tronic de­vices that can track their lo­ca­tion 24 hours a day.

The Min­istry of Jus­tice hopes that the tag­ging sys­tem will help po­lice and pro­ba­tion of­fi­cers work out in­stantly if of­fend­ers go near t he scene of a crime or breach con­di­tions of their re­lease.

The tags will be given to some of­fend­ers as an al­ter­na­tive to jail and to oth­ers who will be re­leased from prison.

But The Mail on Sun­day has dis­cov­ered that the plan, due to start be­fore the new year, is in jeop­ardy be­cause po­lice top brass say they do not have the money to make it work.

They have told Min­is­ters they don’t have the man­power to mon­i­tor tagged of­fend­ers con­stantly or to ar­rest them if they breach their li­cence con­di­tions. Chief Con­sta­ble Dave Thomp­son of West Mid­lands Po­lice said: ‘If the ben­e­fit sought is to re­duce the cost of prison, which I think it is, that is shift­ing cost to polic­ing.

‘It’s an­other thing for cops to do – just mov­ing more of that work on to the po­lice with no money.

‘Our view at the mo­ment is we are not sup­port­ive of it, we don’t want to do it.’

And vic­tims’ rights cam­paigner Harry Fletcher said: ‘If the po­lice are un­able to en­force it then the scheme will not work and will do noth­ing to pro­tect the pub­lic.’

The po­lice’s na­tional lead for tag­ging, Sur­rey Chief Con­sta­ble Nick Eph­grave, has told the Min­istry of Jus­tice that forces must be given more in­for­ma­tion about how the scheme is due to work be­fore they will sup­port it.

And a s pokesman f or t he Na­tional Po­lice Chiefs Coun­cil said: ‘We want to work fur­ther with the Min­istry and the Home Of­fice to gather more data and to eval­u­ate the op­er­a­tional im­pact this roll-out will have on forces.’

It is the lat­est in a se­ries of set­backs to the Gov­ern­ment’s hopes of re­duc­ing jail num­bers through elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing, as the tags cost just £12 a day com­pared with £90 to keep some­one be­hind bars.

The Min­istry of Jus­tice has been us­ing sim­ple tags to en­force cur­fews for many years and launched plans to use satel­lite tech­nol­ogy to track of­fend­ers in 2011. But in 2013 it emerged that tag sup­pli­ers G4S and Serco had been charg­ing for crim­i­nals who had ei­ther died, never been fit­ted with tags or were still in jail.

The firms even­tu­ally paid back more than £170 mil­lion and the Se­ri­ous Fraud Of­fice is still in­ves­ti­gat­ing the scan­dal.

Last year G4S was given the

‘We’re not sup­port­ive, we don’t want to do it’

con­tract to de­liver the new gen­er­a­tion of tags, along with Capita, af­ter deals with smaller firms col­lapsed.

MPs said in Jan­uary that the project, which has al­ready cost £60 mil­lion, was ‘fun­da­men­tally flawed’ and has led to a ‘cat­a­strophic waste of pub­lic money’.

Last night the Min­istry of Jus­tice said that re­cent pi­lot projects in eight po­lice forces had in­volved al­most 600 of­fend­ers but cost po­lice just £150,000 to en­force.

A spokesman said: ‘ GPS tag­ging will bring sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits. It will help mon­i­tor of­fend­ers and mean that vic­tims can feel safer in the knowl­edge that any ex­clu­sion zone breach will re­sult in an im­me­di­ate alert.

‘The pi­lot scheme showed the cost to po­lice of de­liv­er­ing GPS tag­ging is low and can po­ten­tially save in­ves­ti­ga­tion time by pro­vid­ing ev­i­dence to rule sus­pects in and out of crimes.

‘Some forces are keen to pro­ceed and we will con­tinue to work closely with those who want fur­ther in­for­ma­tion be­fore rolling this ser­vice out.’

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