Public Accounts Committee

Press Notice No. 59 of Session 2005-06, dated 12 October 2006


62nd PAC Report 2005-06

The electronic monitoring of adult offenders

Chairman: Edward Leigh MP

***EMBARGOED UNTIL 0001 HOURS ON THURSDAY 12 OCTOBER 2006 ***

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

"Releasing selected offenders early from prison on condition that they are subject to an electronically monitored curfew at home is a cost-effective alternative to custody. But only if there is minimal risk to the public. In fact, the prison governors who take the final decision to release offenders on curfew are not told if their assessments turned out to be sound. It is of crucial importance to public safety that they are given the kind of information on outcomes which can improve their future decision-making.

"The system is stuttering along at present. Most prisons have no direct access to criminal records on the Police National Computer. Prisoners who are moved between prisons are not accompanied by their assessment records. These and other factors often delay the release of eligible prisoners well beyond their eligibility date. And assessments of the suitability of offenders' homes as places of curfew are sometimes being carried out for prisoners who don't qualify.

"What is uncertain too is how well the release of prisoners on curfew serves the cause of their rehabilitation. We need to have more information about this if public confidence in tagging offenders is to be maintained.

"I welcome the fact that the contractors have bucked their ideas up after the Home Office made deductions from their fees for failing to meet contractual requirements. The Home Office should act on this success in its contracts with other private companies."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 62nd report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence provided by the Home Office, the National Offender Management Service and the two contractors, examined the robustness of electronic monitoring and its use in rehabilitating offenders.

Electronic monitoring, also known as tagging, allows offenders who might otherwise be imprisoned to be released on curfew, with restrictions imposed on their liberty. In England and Wales, courts use Curfew Orders as one element of a community sentence, with or without other measures. Prisoners are also released prior to their normal release date on Home Detention Curfews. Electronic monitoring is also used as a component of sentences for juveniles; however this report focuses on their use for adult offenders only. These account for nearly 80% of electronic monitoring cases. Curfew restrictions vary; but generally they require offenders to be at a given "curfew address" for up to 12 hours, usually overnight. Contractors use monitoring equipment, at curfew addresses, and devices attached to offenders' ankles to monitor compliance with curfew conditions.

Curfews can help with the rehabilitation of offenders by allowing them to have contact with their families and to work or attend education or training. They cost some £70 less per day on average than keeping an offender in prison and help limit the prison population.

Any failures in the system can result in dangerous offenders being free to re-offend, because the tag itself cannot prevent offenders from re-offending. In one tragic case a youth offender on tag was convicted of murder. In order to minimise the risks to the public, the system has to be robust enough to prevent the release of offenders who are likely to re-offend whilst on curfew. Satellite tracking, which is being piloted, is likely to be useful in providing evidence of an offender being in a particular location when a crime is committed. The use of electronic monitoring is also being piloted for monitoring the whereabouts of asylum seekers.

Prison governors are responsible for releasing prisoners early under Home Detention Curfew and they make the final decision as to whether prisoners are suitable for early release. Early release of prisoners could be made more efficient, potentially saving up to £9 million a year, whilst retaining the required levels of caution to minimise the risk to the public.

The rehabilitative effect of living on a curfew needs to be further researched. It is likely that it could be improved by giving offenders and their families better information and providing greater access to work, training and education.

Two contractors have managed electronic monitoring since April 2005 when the Home Office re-tendered the contracts. The new contracts, which cost 40% less than the original contracts, include tougher financial deductions for poor performance, which have successfully improved the performance of the contractors.