Saturday, 31 October 2015

Need to Get a Grip on Tagging

For some time there's been a widespread belief that the MoJ see the answer to the growing prison over-crowding problem is to massively expand the use of electronic tagging, made possible by the next generation of GPS-based equipment. Unfortunately, due to the woefully inept contract design skills at NOMS, it's all gone horribly wrong. The current situation is explained in some detail here on the Probation Institute website:-   

Electronic monitoring: calling all CRCs

By Prof Mike Nellis, Emiterus Professor of Law at the University of Strathclyde. New futures for the Probation Service and electronic monitoring (EM) were envisaged in the Ministry of Justice’s 2012 consultation paper, Punishment and Reform – downgrading the former, upgrading the latter – as part of the wider Transforming Rehabilitation agenda.

While the transformation of the Service – the creation of 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies and the reconfiguration of a state-based National Probation Service – has proceeded apace, the anticipated large-scale expansion of EM, due to begin in late 2014, appears to have foundered, and a start-date postponed to mid-2016.

This is not bad news, because much is wrong with the Ministry’s approach. The means by which the CRC’s nationwide were to access the array of modern EM technologies – radio frequency (for curfews), GPS (for tracking), and emulate the London pilots of transdermal alcohol monitoring, and kiosk monitoring (for office reporting) – have never been clear, and no models of good practice have been offered.

Both the design and procurement of the Ministry’s third EM contract has been severely criticised for its lack of responsiveness to local criminal justice agencies’ needs by free market think tanks Policy Exchange and Reform, who are otherwise in the same political ballpark as the government.

There is an urgent need for more open debate on the place of EM in offender management in which probation voices are better heard, and these are interesting times in which to undertake that. In February 2014, the Council of Europe (2014), belatedly recognising that EM was an established and evolving feature of many European penal systems, issued a Recommendation delineating a human rights perspective on EM.

Although not addressed solely to probation services – prison services and police forces
also manage EM projects – it is a useful point of reference for probation interests.

The CEP (the European Probation organisation) continues to promote a more integrated model of EM, accepting its utility but aiming always to subordinate its use to probation understandings of ethical and effective practice. Its commitment is sustained by the example on many European countries who manage EM from within modernised public sector probation services, some for almost two decades.

Professor Anthea Hucklesby’s EU-funded, five country (Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Scotland, England and Wales) research project on “creativity and effectiveness in EM” will provide much needed insights into the diverse operational realities of EM, and explore its versatility as a penal measure.

Many positive lessons can be learned about EM from abroad, but Scotland and England and Wales themselves make an interesting point of comparison. Scotland has operated an essentially English model of service delivery since 2002, using a single private contractor to deliver a largely stand-alone, curfew model of RF EM, first as a community sentence, later as a form of early release from prison. Its criminal justice social work service, like the Anglo-Welsh Probation Service, mostly stayed aloof from this dubious commercial intrusion into criminal justice, although relationships were never as antagonistic as they became down south.

In 2013 the Scottish Government initiated a public consultation to canvass opinion from all relevant constituencies on the possible future use of GPS technologies with sex offenders, domestic violence perpetrators (and victims) and prolific offenders, as well as the use of transdermal alcohol monitoring, which the police had long wanted to pilot.

Some constituencies were supportive, many were sceptical, but there was a general openness to further exploration. The Scottish Government set up a multi-agency EM Working Party in November 2014, which has brought the right mix of agencies and experts to the table; chances are that future practice will diverge significantly from that emerging in England.

Scottish openness certainly contrasts remarkably with the secrecy surrounding
the Ministry of Justice’s approach in England and Wales (notwithstanding their ongoing
cooperation with Huckleby’s research). The last New Labour government had already planned to move away from a two contractor model (G4S and Serco), and to introduce some GPS tracking alongside the existing RF schemes.

Under the Coalition government the third contract became an unwieldy, multi-contractor arrangement focussed on delivering an all-GPS system, using an as yet to be developed new tag with both GPS and RF capabilities. Public consultation about this, least of all with Probation Trusts as they transitioned into CRCs, but even since, has been zero.

Policy Exchange was a major influence on the Ministry’s ambitious vision, portraying GPS as a vital and timely upgrade from notionally obsolete RF forms of EM, and suggesting 75,000 people per day as a feasible upstream monitoring target. They had however wisely discouraged the Ministry from maintaining the centralised procurement strategy that had prevailed hitherto, favouring commissioning by local agencies, particularly police and probation.

They modelled this on an increasing number of existing Integrated Offender Management schemes which were making creative use of GPS tracking with persistent and prolific offenders, which had grown from the ground up since 2010 outwith the auspices of the Ministry.

The Ministry ignored this advice, bullishly defending the new third contract more in terms of its technological innovativeness and alleged value for money than its demonstrable penal utility. As late as February 2015 the Ministry was rightly criticised by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee for still lacking an evidence-base for its anticipated shift towards mass GPS tracking.

Worldwide, there is now an adequate enough evidence-base for EM, documenting many forms of good and bad practice, and suggestive of yet more. The literature cannot be summarised in five minutes, because the different technologies have different effects in different contexts, related to the support services they are (or are not) embedded in.

It is significant that the Campbell Collaboration, which collates evaluations from around the world and publicises meta-analyses of the effectiveness of particular penal interventions, has yet to produce one on EM (despite two attempts) – and not only because there are still too few studies using the random controlled trial method that the Collaboration favours.

But even methodologically sound evaluations are only as good as the practical penal purposes to which particular forms of EM are put, and if those purposes have been ill-thought out, misconceived, pitched too modestly, or pitched too boldly, evaluations will not reveal all that might be possible, and may prematurely discredit, or overrate, EM’s utility.

Not all EM research has been undertaken with probation interests (or values) in mind, sometimes by academics or think tanks for whom the institutional survival or evolution of the Probation Service is a secondary or marginal matter.

Unless one thinks that anything which serves to reduce offending is (or should be) acceptable to probation, it would be unwise for probation simply to “follow the evidence” on EM, for it is possible in an era of austerity that some uses of it will be deemed cost-effective as a crime-suppressant regardless of their fit with probation values or ethics.

The Scottish Government commissioned a literature review of EM’s effectiveness specifically to aid their thinking about the future of criminal justice social work, not as an end in itself. Gill McIvor and Hannah Graham’s (2015) fine report, grounded in the evidence-based axioms of existing good practice in work with offenders, should become the touchstone of all future British debate on EM. It rightly concludes that EM, properly used, can reduce re-offending and potentially create the kind of community sanctions which effect reductions in the use of custody (if the political will is there to do so).

Most of the available global evidence relates to various uses of RF EM, which penally liberal Scandinavian countries have used particularly well, but there is sufficient American evidence of GPS’s value with sex offenders and in domestic violence contexts to warrant further experimentation in other countries. A cautious review of evidence on alcohol monitoring suggests the same.

Messages from offender perspective research on EM are already familiar: EM-house arrest (especially onerous, full-day versions of it) entails socio-psychological “pains” distinct from those of imprisonment, affects fellow householders in significant ways, and whilst being far from the lenient and undemanding sentence that is sometimes portrayed in the media is usually preferred over imprisonment.

Outside the home the stigma of a visible, wearable ankle bracelet may be intimidating to offenders, and exacerbate difficulties in finding or maintaining employment. Less is certain about the subjective experience of GPS “mobility monitoring”, but some evidence suggests that offenders find it less intrusive than the home confinement entailed by “presence monitoring”, complicating earlier policy assumptions that GPS-based regimes were manifestly higher tariff than RF-based regimes.

Times are changing, perhaps too much. As forms of penal technique, the various EM technologies undoubtedly have the potential to improve some aspects of offender supervision, but not to transform it unless, for purely ideological reasons, government actually wants commercial tech organisations to deliberately marginalise and undermine probation interests.

The old Probation Service made a fatal mistake in not seeking to own EM and operate it themselves: it may not have saved it but it would have shown that the service was alert to the creative affordances of the digital world, and prepared to shoulder responsibility for shaping the way they play out. Paradoxically, the CRCs are currently no more able to integrate EM into offender management than in the days when probation and EM were split between the public and private sectors. In their commitment to all-GPS/no separate RF systems, Policy Exchange and Reform, and the Ministry of Justice itself, go way beyond what the available empirical evidence warrants, but the think tanks, at least, are right to highlight the anomaly of a centralized procurement system which so signally fails to deliver what local criminal justice agencies need from it. The CRCs should demand that this changes soon.


Concern is growing that tagging loads more people is just going to make matters worse. Interestingly, probation don't get a mention in this on the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies website:-

Can Gove fix criminal justice?

Tuesday, 20 October, 2015

A letter from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies is published today in The Independent. It calls for a 'whole-society approach' to preventing and reducing harm, rather than prison building and an expansion of electronic monitoring;

David Cameron and Michael Gove are right to call for a transformation in our approach to criminal justice. However, the solutions they offer address the problem from the wrong direction and may lead to an expansion of tagging and prison numbers, all driven in partnership with the private sector.

A whole-society approach should be the starting point. Social and economic conditions are key to preventing and reducing harm. Numerous studies demonstrate that more equal societies with lower levels of poverty and larger welfare states are healthier places and tend to have smaller prison populations.

For too long we have been over reliant on police, courts and prisons as the key mechanism for responding to harm. Victims need a comprehensive and universal social insurance scheme to shield them from the impact of violence and property crime. This would include well-resourced refuges, health and mental health services - all supplemented with direct financial and practical support. At a local and individual level we need to build skills and community solidarity to step in where possible, rather than use the police as the first port of call.

People need to be held accountable through well managed processes that protect both victim and perpetrator. High level police enforcement may be required – but only as a last resort.

The serious starting point for progressive policy lies not in the question, how can we fix criminal justice, but rather how can we transform society.

Rebecca Roberts, Senior Associate, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies


  1. Thanks Jim, this is why I love this blog!
    Great information with links to research, it keeps me informed and I appreciate this. BTW, I also enjoy updates from colleagues about what is actually happening.
    NPS PO

  2. I agree with the sentiments that the focus should be less on fixing electronic tagging and more on transforming society by addressing the causes of crime that lie in income inequality.

    While we wait for some earthly wisdom to prevail, the micro will trump the macro and the quick fix will be more EM which has been around now for about 15 years and still lacks a comprehensive evidence base. Evidence-based practice is a penal illusion – it gets paid lip service, but most 'innovation' is either driven by cost or ideology.

    When there is reference to the ethical and value base of the probation service, it location seems as remote as the holy grail.
    It's a myth at best that probation has a choice in anything it's instructed to do by government – from supporting indeterminate sentences to TR, probation follows orders. Can anyone give an example of where probation values have acted as a bulwark?

    How long will it be before the system starts experimenting with body worn cameras? If it's good enough for the police, why not extend it to criminals? Ordinary EM would not impinge as much of white collar as blue collar crime, but a camera on fraudsters, tricksters and cyber-criminals would do the trick.

  3. I find it staggering that no one in the civil service seems to be a) capable of designing any sort of scheme/project etc that is actually going to work and work well and b) that no one in the civil service ever seems to learn any lessons from previous mistakes because they seem to make the same idiotic faux pas over and over and over and over. Yet its really not that difficult to design an EM system that will work well and is fit for purpose just like it's really not that difficult to design a prison service that actually works (as the Scandanavian countries have shown us so ably). Most of the problem stems from the fact that just as you hire a hacker to build your onloine security so you should hire the ex cons to help you design systems that work

    1. The ease or difficulty of the design depends on what functional outcomes are being sought: an extra community punishment and constraint or an alternative to custody.

      All the electronic monitoring of recent years has been going on during the inexorable rise of the prison population. It has added to punishment in the community. I am not aware that it has reduced recidivism – or made anyone safer.

      As it becomes more sophisticated it will become more intrusive. Its elements of control and surveillance will appeal to the law and order lobby and will probably persuade the public at large that it offers added protections and will deter reoffending.

      Politically EM is an easy sell. But the government wants to reduce overcrowding. It needs to spend less on custody. Tough community penalties in a previous age were meant to achieve similar outcomes, but all they did was widen the net and become more onerous.

      EM will be promoted as an alternative to custody. If uber-EM does not reduce the prison population, then it just becomes another penalty that adds to government costs while making tidy private profits for the providers.

      Unless EM is part of wider sentencing reforms it will never become a credible alternative to custody.

  4. Perhaps playing this will help.Apparently it has now been released- How to build your own prison

  5. That is a fabulous piece of work from Mike Nellis, truly expert. I wish I could understand why he has allowed the MOJ funded Probation Institute to publish it.

    1. There are a growing number of experts becoming involved in work in the Probation Institute particularly in respect of electronic monitoring. It is well known that an initial contribution to funding of the PI was provided by the MoJ however there were no strings attached. The PI managed to bring together a diverse group on electronic monitoring. Probation folk should consider supporting the PI and how best to make it their own. I remember calls for an institute being made years ago. We have one now and it presents opportunities not problems.

    2. What is the point of the PI? How do probation folk make it their own when it's supposed to be a collaborative entity including those in probation for the public good and those in it for profit? And what opportunities will it afford? And how will anyone be able to know whether it's working or not, how will it's effectiveness be measured?

    3. I'm sure Paul Senior would be happy to answer such questions if put to him - I'm happy to try and use the blog as the vehicle for such a dialogue if no other way proves appropriate or possible.

    4. The make up of the PI group reviewing EM didn't look terribly impartial to me.

  6. A completely peripheral point but, to my mind, an important one.

    When this blog started, people used to identify themselves by name as expressing a view was deemed to be part of our constitutional rights as citizens (we used to be able to access the blog in work and respond in work time). Because of the uncomfortable nature of the debate, however, people were forced, in response a Grayling's dictat, to post anonymously for fear of being identified as 'off message'. The 'anonymous' tag was, to my mind, our way of wearing that 'V for Vengance' Fawkes mask (as opposed to using aliases as per other websites). The threats continued as we went through the fear/threat of sifting and redundancy whilst the fact that NPS staff are now civil servants meant that expressing a view could put you in line for a disciplinary.

    Now we have finally passed over into the world of TR (Total Reckidge ;)), CRC staff are equally fearful of being identified as being critical of their masters for fear of being made redundant etc.

    What amuses me (as an ex-employee who cannot identify themselves because of a signed severance agreement), is that the people on here who are sold on the idea and who are waxing lyrical over how well TR is doing 'in their office/area/CRC' are STILL not identifying themselves.

    We have moved from a universe of mavericks who celebrated (and benefitted from) difference to a legion of company men and women who live in fear of their invisible masters (have you met the new boss?). I no longer live in your universe, thank God, but I do feel for those free thinkers who are still forced to tread in fear of holding an opinion that is different from the 'brand'.

    Remember, the world of TR is only kicking in now, now that the redundancies havee started.

  7. Do not underestimate the cost of tagging. I remember them being promoted strongly before and then being told to reduce PSR recommendations because the budget was over spent. Has to be a genuine. Alternative to custody not net widening. Will have to shut prison(s) to find the money to do it. Where else can it come from ?

    1. We really do need to reduce the prison population and the probation service should be central to this. The NPS needs to be vastly expanded by bringing the CRCs back into the public sector. Tagging has its place but as Professor Nellis says this should be under a probation umbrella and subject to assessment by probation staff. We have the biggest tagging scheme in Europe but it has the poorest integration with the rest of the criminal justice system compared to other EU countries. We should learn from others in Europe.

  8. All tiresome and moronic comments have been removed from this thread.

  9. Thankfully I've read the blog late and you have removed them before I've had to endure them.

  10. I do have a question however, if tiresome and moronic comments have been removed, why are my posts waiting approval or is this how you are deleting before above said posts are even visible?

    1. One unfortunate aspect of attracting moronic comments of late is that I put moderation in place. Like most people, I need sleep and therefore comments must await moderation until I get up in the morning or arrive back at home having gone out. Although this is tiresome, I feel it's preferable to having the blog hijacked by whovever we seem to have attracted recently and who is clearly intent on just winding everyone up.

    2. Totally agree Jim.xx

  11. I read that a pilot, in London, using EM to monitor alcohol use, found that EM, given the design outcomes sought, was only used in a third of cases as a stand alone disposal; in the rest it was added to other requirements. It was intended to target alcohol related offences linked to the night-time economy but the court in the majority of cases used it to sanction drink drivers. This pilot did not. From what I have read, run a control group so whether the extra costs of EM was justified by outcomes is unknown.

    This is the continuing story of unintended consequences. Apart from the waters being muddied by the sentencing preferences of the courts, there is also a current of thought in probation that such stand alone requirements are 'punitive' and therefore should be embedded in a rehabilitative framework, which in effect means it becomes one of several requirement – all justified under the name of rehabilitation.

    So we end up, not with a 'punitive' disposal but an 'onerous' one. This tendency of probation to be over-interventionist is still alive and kicking despite what we know about net widening and sucking people into the system who would previously have been subject to minimal intervention.

    When programmes came onto the scene there was a bandwagon. And I wonder if the new generation of EM devices will be similarly seductive.

  12. Tiresome and moronic to who? What's the threshold for this bizarre test?

    1. Me - my threshold. Quite simple really.

    2. Well said JB!


    Some guiding principles here for EM that seem to meet the ethical test, though probation would have to rethink their approach, as this report rejects its use as an add-on, whatever the 'rehabilitative framework'.

    1. Summary
      This report offers a critical assessment of electronic monitoring (EM) in the criminal justice system. The author, who spent a year on an ankle bracelet as a condition of his own parole, draws on his in-depth study of legislation, policies, contracts, and academic literature related to electronic monitoring. In addition, he interviewed people directly impacted by EM in four states. These included those who had been on the monitor, their family members, corrections officials, and the CEO of a monitoring company. The report rejects any simplistic rush to deploy electronic monitors as an alternative to incarceration.Instead, the document sets out critical conditions for EM to be a genuine alternative.

      Key Takeaways
      The use of electronic monitoring must be used instead of incarceration in prison or jail, not as an additional condition of parole, probation or pre-trial release.

      Electronic monitoring must be implemented with an alternative mindset that rejects the punitive philosophy that has dominated criminal justice since the rise of mass incarceration.

      Guiding Principles
      Electronic monitoring with house arrest must be seen as a form of incarceration.

      Electronic monitoring should not be added onto a term of parole or probation after a person has served their time.

      The net of who is placed on an electronic monitor must not be widened, especially not so as to capture people who have not been convicted of any crime.

      Regulations regarding both the access and archiving of data collected from GPS- based electronic monitors must be put in place.

      The treatment of people with sex offense histories or any other sub-category of criminal convictions should conform to the same standards of privacy and human rights accorded everyone else in the criminal justice system.

      Exclusion zones should only be used in rare instances and applied on a case by case basis.

      Lifetime GPS should be abolished. Whether it be incarceration or tracking via electronic monitor, no carceral status should be beyond review.

      Enhancing the surveillance power of electronic monitors should be opposed, particularly adding the capacity to monitor biometrics or brain activity, to audio or video record, or to administer pharmaceuticals remotely.

      Electronic monitors should not be technological mechanisms for reinforcing economic and racial disparity.

      User fees for people on electronic monitors as a result of involvement in the criminal justice system should be banned.

      The rules for EM regimes should not be punitive. They should be transparent and informed by the rights of the person on the monitor and their loved ones.

      The companies that provide electronic monitoring services need to be strictly regulated by government authorities.

      Practitioners and providers of electronic monitoring in the US have established no best practice models which acknowledge the human rights of people on the monitor.

      The development of policy on electronic monitoring should include significant participation from those who have been on electronic monitors, their loved ones, and those officials who have been involved in the actual implementation of monitoring programs.

  14. There will need to a rethink as to how probation support and\or use EM, I totally agree, which is why I have no truck with the instruction that all proposals include a punitive element, that's just a means of increasing the profits of capita!

  15. Not relevant to this thread but... Selous recently said in Parliament: "A number of Members asked about possible redundancies in the probation service. CRCs are contractually required to maintain a professional and appropriately skilled workforce to deliver the services set out in their contracts. That is being robustly managed by the National Offender Management Service. Furthermore, any probation staff who were employed as at 31 May 2014 will, if they are eligible for voluntary redundancy, be entitled to the enhanced voluntary redundancy terms, as set out in the national agreement on staff transfer and protections, where a voluntary redundancy situation arises. Those terms stand unless otherwise renegotiated in accordance with applicable employment law."

    Interesting last sentence clearly refers to the Sodexo VS wriggle. But Sodexo's argument was that the vol redundancy package ended on 31 Mar 2015, and thus they delayed their figures until Apr 2015, hence they imposed their own voluntary self-destruct package at a lower rate.

    Napo/Unison - my question is: Andrew Selous now openly acknowledges the EVR remains valid & applicable. Can those who were bullied into taking VS by Sodexo now sue NOMS for failing to protect the best interests of staff by NOMS's collusion with Sodexo in perpetuating the myth that EVR did not apply post-31 Mar 2015? If NOMS had supported the claims by union members that the EVR was valid post-31 Mar 2015 then Sodexo could not have successfully implemented their reduced rate Vol Severance scheme. The actions of NOMS have therefore undermined the rights of staff to EVR & effectively handed Sodexo 60% of staff settlements.

    Those staff who signed off for Vol Severance have no right of recompense from Sodexo per their agreement with Sodexo BUT... Now that MoJ/NOMS have since confirmed that the nationally agreed EVR remains valid, I would suggest that MoJ/NOMS are responsible for compensating staff who have lost 60% of their EVR entitlement.

  16. There is nothing further that can be done. Those who agreed severance on lesser terms did so of their own free will and with legal advice. There was always a loophole in the EVR terms: nothing to stop companies reaching individual agreements and they found enough willing individuals to do business with.

    1. I agree, 07:26. But the advice given - by MOJ & NOMS, by the Unions & by lawyers - to those who signed up has since been proven to be misleading & inaccurate, i.e. contrary to what staff were told the EVR was available after all. It would only seem reasonable to review the situation given that staff leaving before were paid out handsomely, and now subsequent leavers are also eligible for EVR. Many of those "squeezed out" by Sodexo would have made different choices if EVR had been confirmed as available. Many will have written evidence of being told EVR was not available because it ended 31 March 2015 and that will have informed legal advice & choices made.

      There has now been a fundamental change by MOJ & NOMS clarifying the ongoing eligibility for EVR, which makes the previous advice fatally flawed.

      On this basis Anon1.11.15 @ 21:46 might have raised a good point.

  17. 7.26 you got to admit Sodexo were pretty slick over this