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Tagging to be expanded to include those on short sentences

The number of offenders being monitored with tags is growing driven by extensions to new offender cohorts, such as those subject to immigration bail, as well as the roll-out of alcohol monitoring tags.

Over recent months we have covered the issue of the electronic tagging of offenders on a number of occasions as the Ministry of Justice has followed through with its commitment to expand the use of tags. There are now a number of different tags in place: the basic tag used to enforce curfews, GPS tagging which constantly monitors where an individual is and the alcohol monitoring tags which perform around-the-clock monitoring of an offender’s sweat to determine whether alcohol has been consumed.

The number of people subject to tagging jumped by 9% in the year to 31 March 2022. For most of the year the numbers of individuals actively monitored remained broadly stable, at around 14,000 people. However. from the middle of 2021/22 the caseload began to increase, and has now reversed the decreasing trend seen between 2015 and 2020. This increase was driven by extensions to the use of location (GPS) monitoring tags for new offender cohorts, particularly its use for immigration bail, as well as the roll-out of alcohol monitoring tags.

We now know that the number of people on tags is about to increase again. Yesterday the Justice Secretary Brandon Lewis announced an expansion of this Government’s Acquisitive Crime GPS tagging project, with the result that 2,000 more people will have their whereabouts monitored on leaving custody. Under the current system, only people serving sentences of a year or more could be monitored via electronic tags on release under the scheme. The changes announced yesterday will see offenders with sentences of 90 days or more eligible to be tagged – dramatically cutting the existing sentence threshold by nine months. Criminal justice commentators have been quick to complain that imposing these onerous extra requirements on people subject to  such short sentences will almost inevitably drive up the prison recall rate. Last year, more than 7,000 serving a sentence of less than 12 months were recalled to prison.

Racial disproportionality

Electronic tagging was also in the news again today with a Guardian exclusive claiming that ankle tags are being used to racially target and sentence young black men for knife crime offences in a way that “may reflect unconscious bias” within probation risk assessments, according to internal documents from the mayor of London’s office. Nicola Kelly, the author of the Guardian article, secured an equality analysis through a freedom of information request, from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC).

The document revealed that people from minoritized communities were disproportionally likely to be placed on a tag on release from prison.

Other Freedom of Information requests accessed by Work with Offenders show that a total of 759 individuals have been made subject to GPS licence conditions as part of the knife crime pilot in the three year period between February 2019 and March 2022.

It is clear that this issue has been known to MOPAC and the Mayor’s Office for some time since their interim evaluation of the first year’s operation of the pilot found that 54% of those tagged were Black or Black British, 12% had a mixed ethnic background and 7% were Asian or Asian British with just 24% white.


With the Government determined to expand the use of electronic tagging, the probation service and its inspectorate will need to ensure that its use does not aggravate the already well-established racial disparities at every point of the criminal justice system. This is particularly important since any failure to comply with the conditions enforced by the tag is likely to result in a recall to prison,

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