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