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Confusion around probation tagging

Work with offenders on a new report from the probation inspectorate

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation has today (18 January 2022) published a new report on the increasingly common use of electronic tags for people on probation. People on probation can be required to wear an electronic monitor either as a condition of leaving prison or as part of a community sentence. Commonly known as “tags”, electronic monitors can be used for different purposes such as to track an individual’s movements or to test for alcohol intake.

Latest figures show around 8,000 people are subject to electronic monitoring across England and Wales at any one time. The report, formally titled, The use of electronic monitoring as a tool for the Probation Service in reducing reoffending and managing risk, concludes that tagging is under-used and, perhaps more importantly, the rationale for its use is unclear. There are also significant communication and co-ordination problems between probation practitioners and the tagging providers.

Key findings

The inspection found that electronic monitoring is often treated as an ‘extra’, rather than an integral part of an individual’s supervision. Probation practitioners can consult a raft of policies and guidance, but these do not set out clearly how electronic monitoring should complement or strengthen other activity to manage a person on probation effectively.

Inspectors found that practitioners did not always discuss electronic monitoring with individuals on probation – data could be used to inform conversations but is not always. There were missed opportunities to acknowledge positive progress or to signpost people who have completed alcohol monitoring to further sources of support.

People on probation told inspectors that the use of monitoring offers them a period of stability and a reason to break contact with criminal associates.

Inspectors found that, overall,while probation staff were positive about the potential of electronic monitoring for supporting desistance and the management of risk of harm, accessing information about their cases was a source of frustration for many. Requesting data on an individual’s movements is a time-consuming process. The contract with the electronic monitoring agency does not stipulate a response time for all types of cases – inspectors found examples of practitioners waiting up to three days for location information in high risk of serious harm cases.

Plans to set up a portal to give practitioners access to up to date information on individuals’ movements and violations have not been realised. Almost all of the practitioners interviewed for the report said such a portal would have helped them to manage cases more efficiently.

Home Detention Curfews

Home detention curfews can be used in cases as an alternative to custody for those eligible for early release from prison. Probation practitioners told inspectors they felt decisions were almost always weighted towards release, regardless of their concerns. Inspectors found that the assessment used to make decisions has major gaps – not least whether the proposed address for curfew is actually suitable. Surprisingly, there is no national policy to mandate domestic abuse and safeguarding checks at these addresses, and HMI Probation found that these checks were not conducted routinely at court or before release from custody on curfew.

The Inspectorate concluded that it is deeply concerning to think that people are being placed on curfew in homes where there is a potential risk of harm to, or from, others and recommended an urgent review of the assessment process.

 Recommendations

Inspectors concluded that electronic monitoring has significant potential to bring value to the Probation Service’s work but that more work is needed before these benefits are fully realised.

They recommended that Her Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Service commissions research to understand the impact of electronic monitoring and how to get the most out of this tool. They also recommended that HMPPS set out a strategy for the use of tagging across the Probation Service and ensure practitioners receive up to date access to electronic monitoring information, as well as training to strengthen their knowledge and confidence.

The Inspectorate also made a number of operational recommendations to support the tool’s use in protecting the public and reducing reoffending including changes in the current contracts with tagging providers around providing more timely information about breaches.

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