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Ongoing problems with tagging

Work with offenders on today’s National Audit Office Report

This government has set out to be “tough on crime”, by increasing sentence lengths, restricting access to parole and a host of other measures. Amongst these measures, the MoJ regularly highlights its commitment to tag more people – on bail, community sentences and when released from prison (see our recent article for details). But today’s report from the National Audit Office finds that the government’s electronic monitoring programme has been very poorly managed. The new tagging system is years overdue and the MoJ had to write off £98m when it terminated the Gemini contract run by Capita. Most importantly, the NAO concludes that:

“Evidence on the effectiveness of tagging remains weak, particularly on reducing reoffending and diverting offenders from prison”.

Key findings 

The NAO says that Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) has failed to modernise its tagging system primarily because of its failure to deliver its new Gemini case management system which it had to write off at a cost of £98m to the taxpayer. It made the mistake of continuing with a “tower” contracting structure which involved four suppliers each responsible for providing a different element of the service, whose work needed to be brought together by HMPPS as integrator. HMPPS set out to manage the complex interdependencies between suppliers but failed to do so effectively. The delays and HMPPS’s eventual termination of Gemini have undermined its performance in delivering an effective electronic monitoring system.

The GPS monitoring system is not doing what it promised. HMPPS expected Gemini and the user portal to allow users such as police and probation officers to have self-service access to case information and to historic and real-time maps of offenders’ movements. Instead, users must request mapping data from Capita, which creates a delay, and HMPPS cannot collect information on the timeliness or quality of the service.

Shockingly (if not surprisingly, given the track record of tagging in this country), HMPPS’s ability to carry out analysis and evaluation is severely constrained by the poor quality and availability of data.

HMPPS did not analyse reoffending and offenders’ diversion from prison as planned because of constrained resources. HMPPS estimates that to break-even from its investment in its expansion programme, it would need to divert around 5,000 offenders from prison or deter 9,000 repeat offences by 2025-26. However, the effect of tagging on these outcomes remains unproven and poor-quality data mean HMPPS is heavily reliant on anecdotal information.

Conclusions 

The National Audit Office sets out HMPPS’ plans to address these shortcomings and says that HMPPS is “better placed to avoid repeating past mistakes”. However, it cautions that the timescale is tight and the problems of integrating the different outsourced workstreams may still persist.

It is perhaps hard to be too optimistic about HMPPS’ abilities to turn the tagging programme round when we look at how long-standing the problems are. For example, HMPPS began to replace ageing curfew tags from the previous contracts in September 2020 against an initial target of March 2019. However, the NAO found that HMPPS has not improved efficiency and capability as planned, so the service remains no different from that in 2014.

The report concludes with a further warning that we do not know the value of electronic monitoring in protecting the public and reducing reoffending.

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