Electronic Tagging

The use of electronic tagging for criminals seems appealing at first glance. It finds favour with voters because it pushes the right buttons: cheap, high tech., anti-crime. It feels right.

It isn't.

I can imagine myself faced with the option of a prison sentence or a tagging order. With a tagging order I could continue working and providing for my family, plus I would stay out of jail. But people like me don't go to prison. Our prisons are not full of cautious, home owning middle-class, citizen with good jobs and lots to lose. They are full of people with no stake in society, people who lead chaotic lives, people who do not consider the consequences of their action. These are people who are irresponsible, foolhardy, rash, impulsive. There may be a few criminal masterminds who just got unlucky (I suspect that they are pretty rare outside fiction). These villains would no doubt keep to curfew but really we should keep these folks locked up.

People are not threatened with prison for trivial offences. To be faced with prison you must first have done something wicked - usually you have done something wicked (and been caught) several times. Impulsive people with tags break curfew. Tags don't work for the sort of people who commit crimes.

I am in favour of rehabilitation, release on license and probation. But let the probation be monitored by well trained intelligent parole officers. We need parole officers who can balance toughness and compassion. We need people to monitor, not machines.

Prison should be the last resort. Short of prison there are many options involving supervision - but that supervision should be done by agents of the state, social workers or parole officers who have training and careers. It should not be left to private companies who will do it as cheaply as possible and as badly as they can get away with.

Andrew Cumming

Some highlights from Scottish Executive: TAGGING OFFENDERS: THE ROLE OF ELECTRONIC MONITORING IN THE SCOTTISH CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

Family tensions were increased by the orders in some cases, though not in all, and it was clear that restriction of liberty did not in all cases entail a cessation of criminal activity.

Of the 152 orders imposed from September 1998 to October 1999, 103 had been completed and 9 were still in force at the end of February 2000. In 40 cases, orders had failed as a result of the offender's failure to co-operate.

Only 11 of the 103 completed orders reached their end with no unauthorised absences. Action for breach was begun in 46 (45%) of these orders, and formal warnings were issued in another 19 (18%) cases.

Response from David Smith Lancaster University